Security guards confiscated “Free Hong Kong” signs at the Washington Wizards’ exhibition game against the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangzhou Loong Lions in Washington D.C. on Wednesday night, a Wizards spokesman confirmed to FOX Business.
Multiple groups of protestors supporting pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong were present outside Capital One Arena before the game. Days earlier, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests set off an international incident, with nearly all of the NBA’s Chinese sponsors opting to suspend business ties to the league.
“The building security staff removed signs tonight in accordance with Capital One Arena’s long-standing signs, banners, posters, and flag policy,” the team spokesman said. “No fans were asked to leave the game.”
According to Capital One Arena’s website, signs can be removed for various reasons and cannot “be commercial or political in nature.”
Several Twitter posts showed security interacting with protesting fans around the arena. One user, @JonSchweppe, shared videos of security confiscating signs that said “Free Hong King” and “Google Uyghurs” – reference to Beijing’s crackdown and detention of up to one million members of the Muslim minority group in China’s Xinjiang region.
A day earlier, fans at attending the Philadelphia 76ers’ exhibition game against the Lions said they were ejected by security at the Wells Fargo Center for displaying “Free Hong Kong” signs in the crowd. The team said the fans were removed for “their continuing disruption of the fan experience.”
The NBA has faced widespread criticism over its initial response to the dispute over Morey’s tweet, with several politicians accusing the league of siding with its business interests over democratic values.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to affirm the league’s commitment to free speech in a statement Tuesday.
“It is inevitable that people around the world -- including from America and China -- will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences,” the commissioner said. “However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”