The NBA sure talks a good game about free speech rights ― out of one side of its collective mouth. Amidst China's seething anger over Houston general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for freedom in Hong Kong, NBA commissioner Adam Silver mildly defended the American's free speech rights. But on Tuesday night, two fans were ejected from an NBA exhibition game in Philadelphia for peacefully protesting against China. Talk about inconsistency.
The Sixers were playing a preseason game against the visiting Chinese team, the Guangzhou Long-Lions, and fans of that team were heckling the two protesters. So what we have here is, with two NBA teams schedule to play exhibition games in China (now in doubt because of China's anger over the Morey remarks), and a Chinese team playing in Philly, it appears Silver and the NBA are going wobbly on human rights. The NBA is more afraid of losing mega-bucks in China than Americans losing their free speech rights.
Philadelphia fans Sam Wachs and his wife (seen in photo) were kicked out of Wells Fargo Arena during Tuesday's game for holding “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK” signs. Sam said they were silent until their signs were confiscated, and the two are seen in a photo with surgical masks over their faces, too.
“I was being heckled by fans of the visiting Guangzhou team who swore at me and repeated Chinese government disinformation,” Wachs told CNBC via Facebook. Those fans were not ejected.
"The NBA Fan Code of Conduct only prohibits fans from bringing signs with 'obscene or indecent messages. And obviously, 'Free Hong Kong' is neither obscene nor indecent," writes USA Today's Andrew Joseph.
The Sixers issued a statement saying: " ... At last evening’s game, following multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance, two individuals were warned by Wells Fargo Center staff about their continuing disruption of the fan experience. Ultimately, the decision was made by Wells Fargo Center personnel to remove the guests from the premises, which was accomplished without incident."
Wachs saw things differently, posting a Facebook comment saying, "Got kicked out of the Philadelphia 76ers game against Guangzhou tonight for bringing these / chanting my support of Hong Kong. The NBA is pretty cowardly when it comes to pressure from the Chinese government."
"There's no foul language, no politics," Wachs told Philadelphia's ABC television affiliate. "I think it's shameful, harsh reaction."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
"Wachs, 33, who lived in Hong Kong for a time in his 20s, said he had not planned the protest before the controversy erupted over Morey’s tweet.
“'It brought a human rights issue to the NBA,' said Wachs, who described himself as a big Sixers fan. 'I felt I had to do something.'”
“It’s just a shame that their [Sixers' security personnel] job entails silencing people who try to speak out about the NBAs business dealings with a corrupt regime,” Wachs said.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a strange record of whom they eject from a game and whom they bring to a game. Last year they dispatched a helicopter to a prison to transport a man who served time for drug dealing and repeat parole violations, rapper Meek Mill, to a playoff game. There he was honored at mid-court before the game. Mill's so-called "song" My N---- contains the n-word 25 times, but he's honored by an NBA club while fans peacefully demonstrating for freedom are treated with scorn.
"On Monday, Commissioner Silver said, "I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear ... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression."
Is Sam Wachs supported by the NBA for his exercise of free expression? Not so much. When China dangles the big money in front of the NBA it goes awfully squishy. The Wachs may have been allowed to stay at the game if they had only kneeled during the national anthem or brought Meek Mill signs.