NBA rocked by new China protest storm
If you thought the Hong Kong issue and Daryl Morey drama were done once the Nets (and Lakers) left China, think again. It's followed them all the way back stateside, and right into Barclays Center.
After the Nets' pre-season sweep of the Lakers in Shanghai and Shenzen were played in a tense atmosphere - China's communist government cancelling community appearances and press conferences over the Houston Rockets GM's tweet backing the Hong Kong protesters - a host of fans came to Brooklyn's pre-season finale and did the same thing.
Sitting in Section 1, diagonal from the Nets' bench, nine fans in the front row donned white shirts with black lettering saying Free Tibet.
A far greater number of fans - some 100 China protesters filling about eight rows of seats - wore black shirts that read Stand With Hong Kong.
"We want to use our performance art to show our support for Hong Kong and the NBA," one organiser, author Chen Pokong, 55, said.
"They want to take away freedom of speech and now spread dictatorship to America," he said of China.
"It seems like NBA people cannot choose their words. So if we don't stop them, they not only will do bad things in China, they will do bad things in America."
Despite the Nets and Lakers essentially being muzzled by the communist Chinese government last week in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and largely staying quiet since returning, Nets superstar Kyrie Irving had his say about his talk in China with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and his feelings on the situation in general.
"Listen, I stand for four things: inner peace, freedom, equality and world peace, man. So if that's being conflicted inside of me, I'm definitely going to have something to say, and I left it in that room," Irving said of his conversation with Silver.
"And Adam, my teammates - I obviously speak for myself - but have a mutual respect of all the guys in the locker room. We talked about it as a team, we made a group decision and went forward to play the game. That's just what it was."
Another protest organiser, Andrew Duncan, earlier took Lebron James to task criticising Rockets GM Daryl Morey for tweeting his support for the Hong Kong protesters.
"Lebron needs to take time on this issue," Duncan said. "Why is he not supporting Democracy? I think the King has made a royal mistake."
The protesters, most of whom were Hong Kong natives, were peaceful, and none of them were ejected or banned from Barclays Center. It bears watching whether that remains the case, considering the building's ownership.
Nets owner Joe Tsai - who bought both the Nets and Barclays Center in August from Mikhail Prokhorov - has strong opinions on the matter, and has been caught up in the middle of China's spat with the NBA over the league's refusal to fire Morey.
The Taiwanese-born Tsai lives in Hong Kong and co-founded Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. And after Morey retweeted a meme backing the Hong Kong protesters, Tsai penned an open letter on Facebook.
"What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues," Tsai wrote in the letter.
"The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.
Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.
"The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country's sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable."
In a sit-down exclusive with The Post last week in Shanghai - the only on-the-record comments by the Nets or Lakers in the entire China trip - Tsai said the controversial protests are exactly that kind of hot-button issue. And clearly the situation isn't going away.
"What I'm simply pointing out is how mainland China feels about this issue," Tsai told the Post. "It's definitely a third-rail issue for Chinese people on the mainland."