After the NBA decided to mute all mention of the Hong Kong protests to avoid angering the Chinese government, the fans seem to have decided to take matters into their own hands, as many of them have been sporting pro-Hong Kong shirts at games. An NBA team manager, Daryl Morey, had earlier tweeted in support of the protests, which triggered a huge backlash from China.
During a Brooklyn Nets game on October 18, hundreds of people in the audience wore “Stand With Hong Kong” shirts. “We want to use our performance art to show our support for Hong Kong and the NBA… They want to take away the freedom of speech and now spread dictatorship to America… It seems like NBA people cannot choose their words. So if we don’t stop them, they not only will do bad things in China, they will do bad things in America,” an organizer of the protest said to the New York Post.
Most of the fans supporting Hong Kong were Asian. Some wore black breathing masks that actual Hong Kong protestors wear during the demonstrations. A lawmaker from Hong Kong who participated in the NBA protest stated that he just wanted to remind the organization that they were fighting for protecting world peace. Another organizer of the event criticized NBA legend LeBron James, who had called Morey “misinformed.” Some of the signs at the protest mentioned LeBron by name.
In a later game, a kid baited a “dance” camera operator in order to show support for Hong Kong. The operator was panning the camera when he focused on seeing the boy jumping around. “As soon as he [the boy] had the spotlight, he swiftly switched gears and pulled out a new shirt that read “Fight for Freedom, Stand up for Hong Kong” and pumped his fist in the air. The camera swiftly panned away, but he was able to make his feelings known by showcasing the shirt’s message for a few seconds,” according to Time.
Following Morey’s tweet, the Chinese government criticized the NBA and demanded that the organization “show respect.” Several Chinese companies retaliated by severing ties with the NBA. A state-owned broadcaster avoided airing NBA games played on the opening day of the season. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, admitted that the organization was suffering from substantial losses due to Beijing’s retaliatory measures.
Mike Pence criticism
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently lashed out at the NBA for refusing to criticize China. “Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China… In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting as a wholly-owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime,” he said in a statement (NPR).
Pence also took a dig at Nike, which had removed the merchandise of the Houston Rockets NBA team from its Chinese stores. The Vice President called the move “un-American” and accused the company of siding with the Chinese government. He criticized the dual standards of Nike that terms itself as a social justice champion, yet throws out such concerns when it comes to the issue of Hong Kong. Pence declared that the United States government was with the Hong Kong protestors and that any use of violent force by China in Hong Kong could threaten the trade deal between the two superpowers.