Hong Kong protesters bring politics to NBA preseason game in Vancouver
Luisa Alvarez, CTV News Vancouver
Published Friday, October 18, 2019 6:32AM PDT
Last Updated Friday, October 18, 2019 7:11AM PDT
Two different rallies took place outside Rogers Arena ahead of Thursday night's preseason NBA game and while one brought Vancouver Grizzlies fans together, the other brought Hong Kong protesters.
Dressed head to toe in Vancouver Grizzlies getup, dozens of basketball fans braved the rain to show the league Vancouver wants a second chance at having an NBA team.
"I love basketball I want to see other kids grow up watching professional basketball like I was able to watch," said Tony Knorr.
They're hoping the noise they made spearheads a movement and sparks the interest of decision-makers so NBA games in Vancouver are not a onetime thing.
But they weren't the only ones with a message. Pro-Hong Kong protesters also showed up, many wearing masks to protect their identities because of the political nature of their cause.
"Our freedom of speech is under threat when an authoritarian regime intimidates businesses that are here into self-censorship,” said rally organizer Lee Haber.
Haber is referring to the recent controversy involving the league and mainland China after general manager for the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey showed his support for Hong Kong protesters in a tweet he then deleted. After first apologizing to China the NBA has said it supports freedom of speech for employees and players, causing China to blackout NBA games both on TV and online.
"We want to know that they really do stand for freedom of speech when their fans choose to exert it," said Haber.
Inside the game, protesters and supporters began chanting "free Hong Kong, free Hong Kong."
Haber then took to Twitter to show his appreciation for Rogers Arena staff who allowed them to exercise their right to free speech writing "better than what Hong Kong protesters had to deal with in other cities."
The Chinese market is the second-largest market for the NBA outside the United States, worth $4 billion in TV licensing and merchandising. But protesters say freedom of speech shouldn't have a price tag.
"Beijing is testing how the West is going to react. If we react strongly they may back down if we don’t the worst could happen," said Haber.