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Small group shows support for Hong Kong protesters during Celtics game

Protesters held up signs in support of Hong Kong during the third quarter of the preseason game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden in Boston on Sunday, Oct. 13. Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

A small group of people held up signs in support of the Hong Kong protest movement at the Celtics preseason game in Boston on Sunday, as the NBA has been enmeshed in a controversy due to a since-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

About three people could be seen in the stands at TD Garden, dressed in hard hats and goggles and face masks, holding up signs that read, “Free from fear,” “Stand with us,” and #SupportMorey.”

Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

The controversy started when Morey tweeted an image earlier this month that read ‘‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,’’ referring to the protest movement that has upturned the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.


The post led to Houston owner Tilman Fertitta turning to Twitter to say that Morey does not speak for the Rockets, and sparking an outcry that included the Chinese Basketball Association — whose president is Yao Ming, the former Rockets star center — saying it was suspending its relationship with the team.

An Oct. 6 statement from the NBA said that the league recognized that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” and said the tweet “does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he and the league were ‘‘apologetic’’ that so many Chinese officials and fans were upset by Morey’s tweet and comments that followed, but insisted that Morey has the right to freedom of expression.

After Morey’s tweet, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, canceled plans to show a pair of preseason games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets later that week.

Basketball is wildly popular in China, and those two teams — largely because of LeBron James starring for the Lakers and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s co-founder Joe Tsai now owning the Nets — would have almost certainly been a huge television draw.


‘‘We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,’’ CCTV said in a statement.

The NBA has seen its own fair share of criticism in the US.

Globe columnist Renée Graham wrote: “Hong Kong protesters are fighting for their lives. The NBA is fighting for its bottom line.”

Gary Washburn, a basketball writer for the Globe, wrote, “Morey made this an international issue and if the NBA has to swallow some humility and reassess its stance on social issues, then so be it. . . it should serve as an education to fans and observers that the NBA isn’t as ‘woke’ or fearless as it claims to be.”

Wire material from the Associated Press and Bloomberg News was used in this report.