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

Protesters hold signs in support of Hong Kong during the third quarter. The Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers in a pre-season NBA basketball game at TD Garden in Boston on Oct. 13, 2019.
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