PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The NBA has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong, the region embroiled in pro-democracy clashes with China for months. That controversy played out on the Wells Fargo Center court — and stands — Tuesday night when a fan says he was ejected from a Sixers’ exhibition game against Guangzhou Loong Lions.
Sam Wachs, 33, says he and his wife were ejected by Wells Fargo Security from the exhibition game after he brought in several pro-Hong Kong signs and yelled “Free Hong Kong.”
Wachs was sitting in section 124 — right behind the Guangzhou bench — when he and his wife held up two signs: one reading “Free Hong Kong” and the other reading “Free HK.”
Wachs, a Philly resident who lived in Hong Kong for two years, says he was also wearing a “Free Hong Kong” T-shirt.
Shortly after tip-off, Wachs says security members saw the signs and told him “no politics.”
When Wachs questioned, he says a security guard said not to give him a hard time and took away the signs.
Roughly midway through the second quarter, Wachs says he stood up and yelled “Free Hong Kong.” He says he was then ejected from the game.
The 76ers told CBS3 in a statement, “The Wells Fargo Center’s event staff is responsible for the security and comfort of all guests at arena events, including 76ers games. 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.”
According to the Wells Fargo Center’s website, “signs must be in good taste and appropriate for the event.” The site also notes the “policy is subject to change based on the Wells Fargo Center management’s discretion and without notice.”
The NBA’s policy prohibits “obscene or indecent messages on signs or clothing,” but does not mention political statements.
The issue came to a boiling point with the league when Morey tweeted a pro-Hong Kong message that was quickly deleted.
The tweet sparked immediate backlash from the league’s front office and in China, which said it would not televise the NBA’s preseason games.
Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement in an attempt to appease both China and those defending Morey’s right to free speech. The statement recognized that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended” some in China,” while at the same time adding that Morey “does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
As reported by The Ringer’s John Gonzalez, Rockets “ownership has debated Morey’s employment status and whether to replace him.”
So with the league trying to bury Morey’s views and appease China, the Sixers welcomed Guangzhou to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday for an exhibition game.
Before the game, the Sixers organization addressed the controversy.
“We played in China last year and it was an incredible experience for our team and our organization. We love our fans there, the passion, the intensity they have for our sport. And I think, most importantly, the game of basketball possesses an incredible power to bring people together,” said Dave Sholler, vice president of communications for the Sixers.
The NBA draws a significant audience from China as the league has a $1.5 billion streaming deal with a Chinese company.