Two basketball fans were kicked out of a Philadelphia 76ers game Tuesday night because they carried small, handmade signs supporting anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong.
Sam Wachs, 33, a podcast producer from Philadelphia, and his wife were at the Sixers exhibition game, sitting three rows behind the visitors bench — where the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, of the Chinese Basketball Association, were stationed at the Wells Fargo Center.
Each carried signs, “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK,” before they were booted by arena security in the second quarter.
The Wachs’ protest came four days after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the demonstrators, drawing an instant rebuke from the league and its business partners in the People’s Republic of China.
Residents of the semiautonomous region have been protesting for more than four months now, calling for reforms.
“The NBA does not want deal with this,” Wachs told NBC News on Wednesday. “It’s all about money. They want their sweet, sweet Chinese money. And they say they’re for human rights and equality but that’s only up to point. And that point is the Chinese market.”
Wells Fargo Center managers said their security officers had the right to eject Wachs and his wife over their support of Hong Kong protesters.
“After three separate warnings, the two individuals were escorted out of the arena without incident,” according to the arena statement to NBC Philadelphia. “The security team employed respectful and standard operating procedures.”
Wachs said the first warning came as he and his wife sat silently, holding up their signs, when security first approached them.
“‘You can’t have these signs, nothing political,'” Wachs said, quoting a security guard. “I said ‘Why’ and he said ‘Hey don’t give me a hard time, I’m just doing my job.'”
The guard confiscated the “Free Hong Kong sign” but allowed them to keep their “Free HK” poster. Wachs said he told the guard “HK” stood for Harry Kalas, the late longtime Philadelphia Phillies baseball broadcaster.
That “HK” sign was confiscated a few minutes later. And then Wachs stood up and started chanting “Free Hong Kong, free Hong Kong,” leading to his third strike and ejection from the building.
Wachs, who lived in Hong Kong between 2009 and 2011, called for fans in other NBA cities to pull similar protests and force the issue.
“I hope it does not go away, I would love people in other cities to do something like this,” he said.