Free Speech

Philadelphia 76ers Fans Ejected from Preseason Game for Supporting Hong Kong—UPDATED

Apparently the NBA's kow-towing to Communist China is not limited to groveling press statements.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

(Update Below)

The NBA's efforts to please the Chinese government appear not to be limited to the issuance of obsequious press statements and the disavowal of criticism of the oppressive Communist regime.

Last night, at an NBA preseason game in Philadelphia between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangzhou Loong-Lions, two fans were reportedly ejected for showing support for freedom in Hong Kong.  As a result, evidence that Sixers star Ben Simmons has finally learned how to shoot was overshadowed by the NBA's latest effort to curry favor with China's oppressive regime.

According to multiple press reports, security officials at the Wells Fargo Center first confiscated the fans' "Free Hong Kong" and "Free HK" signs. Then, when one of the fans responded by yelling "Free Hong Kong," they were removed from the arena. If these reports are accurate, these actions are unconscionable.

The NBA's posture toward China is bad enough, but it's particularly troubling to hear of such events in Philadelphia (birthplace of the Declaration of Independence) at a 76ers game (given the inspiration for the teams name) and in an arena owned by Spectacor, the company founded and formerly owned by noted anti-communist Ed Snider (the same Snider who didn't want his Philadelphia Flyers to have to play the Soviet Union's Red Army team, leading to one of the most famous hockey games of all time). Adam Silver claims the NBA supports free speech, but actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, and perhaps the fans were ejected for some other behavior—though they deny using any profanity or objectionable language. The 76ers organization has yet to comment. But the idea that a fan would be ejected from a game for showing their support for freedom is deeply troubling. Indeed, it's enough to make one want to use the Wells Fargo Center's new Rage Room.

UPDATE: Statements issued by the Philadelphia 76ers and the Wells Fargo Center claim the two fans were ejected for disruptive behavior. From an NBC10 news report:

In a statement on Wednesday, the team said Wells Fargo Center security staff made the decision to eject the couple "following multiple complaints from guests and verbal confrontations with others in attendance…."

The Wells Fargo Center, in its own statement to NBC10, said "After three separate warnings, the two individuals were escorted out of the arena without incident. The security team employed respectful and standard operating procedures."

More from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Wachs said he and his wife were silent until their signs were taken away but acknowledged standing on his chair to shout "Free Hong Kong" and debating with fans of the Chinese team who "swore at me and repeated Chinese government disinformation about the Hong Kong protests."

He said the guards who escorted them out were "not particularly rude" and; "just seemed to be just doing their job. "

"It's just a shame that their job entails silencing people who try to speak out about the NBAs business dealings with a corrupt regime," Wachs said. . . .

The Wells Fargo Center's policy for signs requires that signs be no larger than 14 inches by 14 inches, not attached to a stick or a pole, and "be in good taste, and appropriate for the event."

"This policy is subject to change based on The Wells Fargo Center management's discretion and without notice," it says.

As for the signs in question, they are visible here:

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