Protestors Support Hong Kong During NBA Preseason Game

Hong Kong protestors Brooklyn Nets

@Yashar Hong Kong protestors at the Nets game

The Hong Kong protests have reached American soil.

Hundreds of protestors held signs and wore t-shirts showing support for Hong Kong during Friday’s NBA preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center. It’s the latest in a surging political debate that has now fully invaded the NBA.

The protestors sat behind the basket near the Nets’ bench wearing t-shirts that read “Stand With Hong Kong” and holding signs that read “Fight for Freedom”.

The Nets returned from China last week during the league’s annual exhibition trip to the basketball-crazed nation. The team was met with the usual frenzy of fans, but also lots of uncertainty about whether or not the scheduled games would even be played.  Earlier this week, the team mostly side-stepped questions about the controversy.

The Nets open the regular season on Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It is unclear if the protestors will return for opening night or at any other time during the regular season.  One thing is for sure, the NBA’s China issue is not going away anytime soon.

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Barclays Becomes Political Battleground

The 300 protestors turned the sporting event into a political statement. Journalist Yashar Ali chronicled the protestors who reportedly received free tickets to the game from film producer and activist Andrew Duncan. Some of the protestors wore Winnie the Pooh costumes as the cartoon is banned in China and Pooh has become an effigy to mock Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the Tsai of the Storm

Nets owner Joe Tsai is making it perfectly clear where he stands on the NBA-China controversy. The co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba wrote a lengthy open letter to the fans on Facebook, that was later deleted.  The post offers his reaction to the damage caused by Daryl Morey’s tweet.

“By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China,” Tsai wrote in the Facebook post.  I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he is a fine General Manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident caused will take a long time to repair.”

Tsai also used the post to defend every American’s right to free speech but went on to add that certain topics are best kept left alone, especially for people in the public eye.

“Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China,” Tsai wrote.

Nets Players Support Tsai

Nets players have stayed relatively mum on the political controversy.  Head Coach Kenny Atkinson and guard Caris LeVert declined to comment on the situation earlier this week. However, newly-acquired and notably outspoken guard Kyrie Irving was candid with his opinion on the topic.

“I think that when you think about communities across the world, I think that a lot of people would stand for world peace,” Irving told the AP. “Government gets involved and impacts different communities in different ways. The reality is that as individuals it’s our job to stand up for what we believe in.”

READ NEXT: Brooklyn Nets React to NBA-China Controversy

Follow Jared Smith on Twitter: @jaredleesmith