A fan in the stands of the Philadelphia 76ers preseason game against the Guangzhou Long Lions says he was ejected from a game after shouting "free Hong Kong," just days after U.S. politicians blasted the NBA for appearing to silence American citizens to protect its business interests in China.
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Christie Ileto, a reporter for Philadelphia's 6ABC news station, tweeted a video of a man being escorted from his near-courtside seats during the game.
Ileto described the video as "the moment Sam Wachs and his wife are escorted out of the @sixers preseason game against a Chinese basketball team for yelling 'Free Hong Kong.'"
Wachs later told 6ABC that he had been wearing a shirt and holding signs with messages supporting the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Wachs also shouted "free Hong Kong."
"I think it's shameful, harsh reaction," Wachs he told the outlet. Wachs added that security told him "no politics" when ejecting him from the game.
But the NBA's business with China has become politically fraught since Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the protesters. He quickly found the NBA distancing itself from his comments and later issued a lengthy apology.
U.S. politicians slammed the NBA's lack of support for Morey as shameful and a craven move by the league to put profits above human rights. Hong Kong protesters allege they have been routinely subjected to police brutality, and the Hong Kong Police Force has repeatedly rejected calls for an independent investigation of the use of force.
China expressed extreme anger at Morey, and when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday stood up for Morey's right to expression, they slammed it as meddling in Chinese affairs and beyond the realm of free speech.
China banned the airing of two preseason games in the country, despite both of them involving Chinese league teams. Chinese retailers have now largely abandoned selling Houston Rockets' merchandise.
Silver on Tuesday announced he'd visit Shanghai to try to repair the damaged relationship with China. The NBA has frequently encouraged its athletes to speak about political issues like police violence in the U.S. and has been met with harsh criticism for seemingly censoring those who speak out against police violence and human rights in China.
The NBA's business with China amounts to a $4 billion opportunity for the league. The NBA also hosts a training facility in Xinjiang, where China is suspected of holding up to one million Uighurs, an ethnic and religious minority, in detention camps.