Hundreds of protesters in black “Stand With Hong Kong” T-shirts filled seats at a Brooklyn Nets game Friday to protest the National Basketball Association’s failure to stand up for anti-government Hong Kong demonstrators because of business concerns.
The fans waved signs and chanted at Barclays Center, where the Nets lost to the Toronto Raptors 107-123 in the preseason game.
It was the first opportunity for fans to vent since the Nets returned this week after playing exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The games were not televised in China and several events were cancelled because of simmering tension between the nation and the NBA. Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet early this month in support of Hong Kong protesters — then deleted it and apologized — when it angered Chinese officials. China’s state broadcaster nevertheless said it would stop showing Rockets games, and sponsors began suspending their contracts with the NBA.
Nets owner Taiwanese-born Joe Tsai, co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, wrote a long criticism of Morey’s tweet.
But a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called it “outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition.”
Nets star guard Kyrie Irving was sympathetic to the protesters Friday. “The reality is that as individuals it’s our job to stand up for what we believe in,” he told The Associated Press.
The protesters also include a “Free Tibet” faction.
One of the protesters was Nathan Law, a Hong Kong politician and activist, and former chairman of pro-democracy political party, Demosisto, which he co-founded with activist Joshua Wong. The two were jailed last year for participating in an illegal protest.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James earlier this week insisted that Morey wasn’t “educated” about the issues in the ongoing Hong Kong protests. “And so many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” he added.
Hong Kong protesters burned James’ jersey in the streets a short time later.
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