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NBA fan event in China canceled amid fallout over Hong Kong tweet

Chinese sports officials said they were canceling the event in view of "inappropriate remarks" by the Houston Rockets general manager and "improper remarks" by the NBA commissioner.
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BEIJING — An NBA fan event scheduled in Shanghai on Wednesday was canceled by Chinese sporting officials in the latest sign of China's fury over the Houston Rockets general manager's tweet in support of Hong Kong's anti-government protesters.

The cancellation also came after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended the Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on Monday by saying players and team executives have the right to free speech.

"In view of the inappropriate remarks made by general manager Morey of the Houston Rockets of the NBA league and the improper remarks made by NBA commissioner Silver, the 2019 NBA fan night, which was scheduled to be held at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center at 18:00 on October 9, is canceled," the Shanghai Sports Federation announced on the Chinese communication platform Weibo on Wednesday.

An ESPN host in Shanghai tweeted that a scheduled media event with players at the Shanghai event was also postponed, while NBA banners across the city were being removed.

NBC News could not immediately reach NBA spokespeople.

The cancellation of the fan event follows the suspension of Chinese partners' ties to the Rockets, with sponsors yanking money and Chinese television outlets saying they would no longer air the team's games.

China has been crucial to the NBA's rise as a global brand.

China has also repeatedly denounced foreign intervention in the Hong Kong protests, increasingly violent demonstrations that began in June in defiance of Beijing's growing rule over the semiautonomous territory.

Morey had deleted his tweet from Friday in support of Hong Kong protesters and apologized for "any offense." But it was not enough to prevent backlash from the NBA's Chinese partners.

Chinese fans told NBC News they were disappointed by the comments from U.S. officials.

"Their so-called freedom of speech and freedom of spirit are based on their own values and have no respect for our sovereignty," Xu Xiaowei, 24, said.

"Their remarks and actions violate the bottom line of (China's) one country, two systems and the basic law," Jordan Jing, 27, said.

Jing added that the backlash against the NBA may be short-lived. "As with previous incidents of humiliation against China by some international brands and organizations, the negative impact is limited. After the incident, the NBA will continue its development in China."

Image: People play basketball at an outdoor court in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2019.
People play basketball at an outdoor court in Beijing on Wednesday.Greg Baker / AFP - Getty Images

In the U.S., a couple claimed they were kicked out of a Philadelphia 76ers preseason game Tuesday night for showing their support for Hong Kong protesters.

Sam Wachs told NBC News local affiliate NBC10 that he and his wife were holding up "Free Hong Kong" and "Free HK" signs as the 76ers played the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangzhou Long-Lions at the Wells Fargo Center.

Security first confiscated their signs, then later escorted them out after they yelled "Free Hong Kong" during the second quarter, Wachs said. "What's wrong with that?" he said, adding that he had lived in Hong Kong for two years and supports the demonstrations.

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. "The security team employed respectful and standard operating procedures."

An esports gamer was also pulled from a tournament after expressing support for the Hong Kong protesters. Pro-player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai was removed from the Grandmasters tournament Blizzard for breaking a rule, according to a statement from the tournament, which is part-owned by the Chinese company Tencent.

Blitzchung had reportedly made a statement during a livestream of a competition calling for the liberation of Hong Kong from China.

Blitzchung could not be immediately reached by NBC News, but the gamer told Inven Global earlier this week, "I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it's my duty to say something about the issue."

Dawn Liu and Nior Yee reported from Beijing, Linda Givetash from London.