Amid NBA Backlash, 76ers Fan Ejected From Preseason Game Over Support For Hong Kong Protests

On Tuesday night a man and his wife were ejected from the Wells Fargo Center during a Philadelphia 76ers preseason game against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.

During the game, the couple held up signs which read "Free Hong Kong" and "Free HK" in reference to the ongoing protests in the Chinese city. Sam Wachs, the man holding the sign, told WCAU that he lived in Hong Kong for two years and supports the current protests going on in China.

The protests in Hong Kong began in June and were sparked by the proposal of an extradition law. The law would have allowed authorities to detain and extradite criminals who are wanted in territories such as Taiwan and mainland China, areas where Hong Kong currently does not have extradition agreements.

The ejection of Wachs stems from Houston Rockets' general manager, Daryl Morey's recent tweets regarding the protests in Hong Kong. "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hon Kong," Morey wrote in a now-deleted tweet which sparked immediate backlash from the NBA as well as China, which stated they would no longer be airing NBA preseason games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried to ease tensions between the league and China in a statement which supported Morey's right to free speech while also adding that Morey "does not represent the Rockets or the NBA."

Wachs and his wife were sitting in section 124, right behind the Guangzhou bench. At the start of the game, arena security told him "no politics" regarding the signs he was holding up. His signs were confiscated after he attempted to question the comments from the security guards.

Following the signs being taken away, Wachs stood up and yelled "Free Hong Kong" during the second quarter. He and his wife were ejected from the arena shortly after.

The moment Sam Wachs and his wife are escorted out of the @sixers preseason game against a Chinese basketball team for yelling “Free Hong Kong.” @6abc

— Christie Ileto (@Christie_Ileto) October 9, 2019

The arena's website states that "signs must be in good taste and appropriate for the event" but also notes that the policy is "subject to change based on The Wells Fargo Center management's discretion and without notice."

According to the NBA Fan Code of Conduct, "obscene or indecent messages on signs or clothing will not be permitted," but there is no mention of politics or political statements.

The 76ers organization has yet to issue a statement regarding the decision to eject Wachs, but they did address the ongoing issues between the NBA and China prior to the game.

"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.

After Morey deleted his tweet and Silver issued an apology, the NBA has continued to receive its fair share of backlash. In addition to Chinese state-run broadcasts not showing NBA preseason games, China has ended their ticket sales for a game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai, and many different Chinese brands have suspended their relations with the NBA.

Prior to the current issue between the NBA and China, the two had a very positive relationship. NBA officials in both countries have said that as many as 500 million Chinese people watched at least one NBA game last season. In order to continue the promotion of the sport, the NBA schedules preseason games against different teams who are in the Chinese Basketball Association. In addition to preseason games like the one between the 76ers and the Guangzhou Lions, the NBA also plans to host games and practices in China for fans.

Many people across the U.S. are also angry that the league has refused to stand up to China and support the protests. Longtime Rockets fan and a Texas Republican, Ted Cruz expressed his views on the issue via twitter.

"As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protesters in Hong Kong," Morey tweeted. "Now, in pursuit of big $$ the @nba is shamefully retreating."

As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong.

Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating.

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019

Newsweek reached out to Wachs for comment regarding the situation but did not hear back.

NBA and China
Amid disputes between China and the NBA, a man was removed from the 76ers arena after supporting Hong Kong Kevin Frayer/Getty

About the writer

Matthew Impelli is a Newsweek staff writer based in New York. His focus is reporting social issues and crime. In January 2023, Matthew traveled to Moscow, Idaho where he reported on the quadruple murders and arrest of Bryan Kohberger. Matthew joined Newsweek in 2019 after graduating from Syracuse University. He also received his master's degree from St. John's University in 2021. You can get in touch with Matthew by emailing Languages: English.

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