LOS ANGELES • Observing two cultural celebrations at the same time can lead to controversy, the Sacramento Kings learnt this week.
On Monday, the team hastily removed free "Year of the Monkey" T-shirts for fans from arena seats after complaints that the giveaway was racially insensitive on the first night of Black History Month.
The Chinese New Year will start on Monday, but the team's effort to celebrate seemed misplaced to some at the start of the annual celebration of African-American heritage. Images of workers removing the shirts from seats at the Sleep Train Arena, where the Kings defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 111-104, were published on social media.
On Facebook, former National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Marques Johnson, a television analyst for the Bucks, described an encounter he had on Monday night with DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' All-Star centre, who objected to the shirts.
"I walk into the building and DeMarcus Cousins calls me over to an animated discussion he's having with Kings operations people. He asks me, 'What you think about this T-Shirt?' Told him a little insensitive on the first day of Black History Month. They pulled the shirt..."
On Monday night, players and coaches were wearing Black History Month shirts during warm-up.
We all need a lesson in sensitivity... Certainly we don't want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.
CHRIS GRANGER, Sacramento Kings president, on removing the free "Year of the Monkey" T-shirts for fans.
The NBA has celebrated the Chinese New Year before as part of its community engagement programmes. Last year, it ushered in the Year of the Goat with activities including prizes, performances and special food to celebrate the diversity of the league's fan base.
This year, other teams in the league have participated in New Year events. Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin - the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent - and players from other teams were featured in a television "Dining Table" spot as part of celebrations from Feb 3-21.
The Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards will also be wearing special Chinese New Year uniforms, with their team names in Chinese, during the festive period.
The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported that the "Year of the Monkey" T-shirts were removed from the seats about 90 minutes before the game started. Other celebrations went ahead as planned, including a ribbon dance by the Kings' dancers.
"We all need a lesson in sensitivity," the Kings' president, Chris Granger, told The Sacramento Bee.
"In an effort to celebrate Chinese New Year, we had some concerns about the T-shirt giveaway, so we pulled them all out before the doors opened. Certainly we don't want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern."
NEW YORK TIMES