76ers fan supporting Hong Kong ejected from preseason game against Chinese squad in Philadelphia

Key Points
  • A fan was ejected from a Philadelphia 76ers preseason game on Tuesday after holding signs and shouting support for Hong Kong.
  • The match was against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, a squad from China.
  • The relationship between the NBA and China has been eroding since Sunday, when the Houston Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons (25) drives to the net as Guangzhou Loong-Lions' Yongpeng Zhang defends and Philadelphia 76ers' Tobias Harris, right, watches during the first half of an NBA exhibition basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke | AP

A fan was ejected from a Philadelphia 76ers preseason game on Tuesday after holding signs and shouting support for Hong Kong during the game against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, a squad from China.

Sam Wachs said he and his wife were silently holding signs that said "Free Hong Kong" during the game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

"I was being heckled by fans of the visiting Guangzhou team who swore at me and repeated Chinese government disinformation," Wachs said in response to a question from CNBC on his Facebook page.

The signs were confiscated by security at the stadium and Wachs and his wife were kicked out, he said.

"Got kicked out of the Philadelphia 76ers game against Guangzhou tonight for bringing these / chanting my support of Hong Kong," Wachs posted on Facebook on Tuesday night. "The NBA is pretty cowardly when it comes to pressure from the Chinese government."

The 76ers and Wells Fargo Center released statements saying Wachs was removed after disrupting the game for other fans and ignoring several warnings.

Here's the statement from the Wells Fargo Center:

During the second quarter of last night's 76ers game, Wells Fargo Center security responded to a situation that was disrupting the live event experience for our guests. After three separate warnings, the two individuals were escorted out of the arena without incident. The security team employed respectful and standard operating procedures.

Here's the statement from the 76ers:

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.

Wachs said he wasn't intentionally confrontational.

"When I was ejected, I'd say I was disruptive in the sense that I was standing in my seat. But I did not go about this protest in a confrontational way. I only stood and began to chant after signs were taken away," he told CNBC.

The NBA is facing intense criticism in mainland China since Houston Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey backed the anti-government protests in a now-deleted tweet over the weekend that said, "Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong."

The tweet was quickly deleted and Morey apologized, but his comments drew backlash in China.

The NBA released a statement about Morey on Sunday that was translated into Chinese for the league's verified account on Chinese social media platform Weibo. A CNBC translation of the post found differences between the English and Chinese version, which sparked criticism in the U.S. for its decidedly more apologetic tone.

The league's commissioner, Adam Silver, apologized for offending the league's Chinese fans, but he stood by Morey's right to express his opinions, saying the league would "protect its employees' freedom of speech."

By Wednesday, nearly all of the NBA's Chinese partners had publicly announced that they were ending or suspending their relationships with the league.

Earlier this week, Chinese tech giant Tencent, Luckin Coffee and Vivo announced the suspension of their relationships with the NBA.

CNBC's Eunice Yoon, Amelia Lucas, and Lilian Wu contributed to this report.

China completely misunderstood the NBA situation: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera
China completely misunderstood the NBA situation: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera