Oct 21, 2019

NBA braces for pro-Hong Kong protests as season kicks off

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.

Go deeper: America strikes back against China's censorship

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,383,582 — Total deaths: 344,077 — Total recoveries — 2,158,031Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,640,972 — Total deaths: 97,679 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
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