As the feud continues between the National Basketball Association and the communist government of China, NBA fans in the United States are also being censored at preseason home games for the U.S.-based basketball league.
The feud began when a league executive, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a pro-Hong Kong protest statement. Morey quickly deleted the tweet, and his boss, Rockets franchise owner Tilman Fertitta, apologized for the tweet. But the damage was done: The Chinese government and government-run companies withdrew partnerships and sponsorships of NBA teams. Also, a major Chinese television network, Tencent, decided to not live stream NBA preseason games held in China.
The repercussions of the NBA-China feud have made its way to the United States. NBC News reported that fans in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C. had their signs confiscated for espousing pro-Hong Kong protest views and opinions. The Hong Kong protests are democratic and are opposed to the communist centralized government in China, which protests have been going on for multiple months and have paralyzed the Hong Kong economy.
Multiple fans wore “Free Hong Kong” t-shirts at the Washington Wizards preseason home game and others had handmade signs supporting the Hong Kong protesters. Some fans claimed that Wizards security and staff members at the Wizards’ home arena, Capital One Arena, confiscated their signs and other fans said event staffers asked him to either ditch his pro-Hong Kong sign or leave, so he decided to leave the game. Interestingly enough, fans wearing “Free Hong Kong” t-shirts were allowed to wear them without being told to leave or to change clothes.
The Wizards played a Chinese team, the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, the latter of which plays in the Chinese Basketball Association (the Chinese version of the NBA). Officially, the Wizards said that no fans were asked to leave and the arena enforced its policy to not permit political or commercial signs.
In Philadelphia, where the Guangzhou Loong-Lions team played the Philadelphia 76ers, a husband-and-wife pair were kicked out of the game for their signs, which read, “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK.” Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center officials said they warned the couple three times to stop their political statements and the couple did not comply, which led to their removal from the arena.
As far as censorship goes, it is understandable that sports venues have specific policies to ban political statements on signs. It encourages sports fandom while separating the arena from having to deal with free speech issues, and as businesses, it is within their right to monitor the speech and conduct of venue patrons.
However, the censorship illustrated the bigger issue that the NBA has, which is a tricky situation between permitting free speech and clamping down on criticism of the communist government of China. China is a lucrative market for the NBA and many NBA teams have invested in China to increase revenue and their fan base.