WASHINGTON (AFP) - A sign-waving couple who yelled "Free Hong Kong" repeatedly near the bench of a Chinese team at a pre-season NBA game were removed by security for disturbing fans, the Philadelphia 76ers said on Wednesday (Oct 9).
Mr Sam Wachs and his wife were escorted out Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Centre during the second quarter of Tuesday's 144-86 victory by the 76ers over the Guangzhou Lions after security guards confiscated their "Free HK" and "Free Hong Kong" signs during the first quarter.
"We were just sitting in our seats near the Chinese bench," Mr Wachs told Philadelphia television station WCAU. "We were saying, 'Free Hong Kong'. What's wrong with that?"
Plenty, according to the Sixers, who said the fans were removed for being a disruption, not the content of their message.
"At last evening's game, following multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance, two individuals were warned by Wells Fargo Centre staff about their continuing disruption of the fan experience," the 76ers said.
"Ultimately, the decision was made by Wells Fargo Centre personnel to remove the guests from the premises, which was accomplished without incident."
It comes in the wake of a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting Hong Kong protesters who have taken to the streets since June in protest of a proposed extradition law that would have sent suspects to China to face trial.
Since then, Chinese business and government leaders have pulled sponsorships of the NBA and backed off support for exhibition games set for this week in China involving the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers.
On Tuesday, Australian Ben Simmons scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and passed off seven assists to lead the 76ers while Canadian Andrew Nicholson paced the Lions with 36 points
Guangzhou will play the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
The 76ers hosted more than 40 young people from China on a cultural visit to the United States earlier this year, with the tour including a chance to meet former 76er World B. Free.
Tuesday's incident was likely far from the last fan protest to come at an NBA game over the Hong Kong issue.
A GoFundMe page started two days ago has halted receipt of donations after taking in just under US$43,000 (S$59,000) - more than twice the target goal - to print and give away T-shirts outside the Staples Centre in Los Angeles before the Oct 22 NBA opening-night showdown between the city rivals Lakers and Clippers, each expected to contend for the league crown.
"Wouldn't it be hilarious if on opening night in Staples Centre, the NBA fanbase made a collective demonstration against censorship by wearing 'Stand With Hong Kong' T-shirts?" asks page founder Sun Lared.