Pro-Hong Kong protesters hold signs at a Celtics-Cavaliers preseason game. Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
The NBA is bracing for a wave of pro-Hong Kong protests during the opening week of its season thanks to the league's showdown with China over free speech, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The big picture: The NBA forbids signs with political messages at games, and most of its arenas have policies in place to eject fans for continued disruptive behavior — but a person familiar with the matter told the WSJ that the league "respects peaceful demonstrations and does not believe they will be a disruptive issue."
Flashback: After Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted earlier this month in support of Hong Kong, league commissioner Adam Silver said that "the long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression" — despite economic pushback from its business partners in China.
The state of play: People are utilizing crowdfunding websites to fund grassroots movements that aim to supply T-shirts and support better-organized protests at upcoming games. The league has also seen a spate of protests occur during its preseason slate.
- At least three protesting fans at preseason games in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., reported being removed and others said officials confiscated their "Free Hong Kong" signs, BuzzFeed News reports.
- On Friday, over 150 protesters wore black "Stand With Hong Kong" T-shirts to the Brooklyn Nets' final preseason game. The team's owner, Joe Tsai, is a co-founder of Chinese tech giant Alibaba.
The bottom line: If the protests are widespread or visible, it could force Chinese censors to black out games — which could cause issues for the NBA's streaming deal with Tencent, reportedly worth billions of dollars.