Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong protesters fill Barclays Center section for Nets preseason game

While it’s been several weeks since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fired off a seven-word tweet that sparked an international feud, the NBA’s China controversy is still not going away.

Hundreds of protesters attended the Brooklyn Nets’ 123-107 preseason loss the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at the Barclays Center together, all wearing black “Stand With Hong Kong” shirts in the lower bowl of the arena.

The statement was clearly directed not just at the league as a whole, but at new Nets owner Joseph Tsai, too.

Tsai, who became the controlling owner of the team this summer, penned an open letter about the NBA’s situation with China shortly after Morey’s tweet in which he slammed Morey for his actions and described the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement.” Tsai was born in Taiwan and co-founded the Alibaba Group — a massive e-commerce company based on China worth billions.

Tsai wasn’t alone in criticizing Morey, either. LeBron James spoke on the issue this week for the first time, saying he thought Morey was “misinformed” about the situation. He later tried to clarify his comments, saying he was talking about the “ramifications of the tweet,” not the actual substance of it.

Friday’s protest is just the latest in the NBA-China saga since the tweet earlier this month, which effectively erased the Rockets from China completely. NBA commissioner Adam Silver — whose first statement after the incident criticized Morey and called his actions “regrettable” — has since seemingly changed sides on the issue, especially after politicians from both sides of the isle came together to criticize him and the league for caving to communist nation.

Silver opened up about the issue again on Thursday in an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, and confirmed that China asked him to fire Morey over the tweet. Silver said he shut that down and that “there’s no chance” the league disciplines Morey at all.

The incident has caused an immense loss of revenue already, too — not just for the Rockets, who have millions of Chinese fans, but for the league as a whole. Many teams have already explored scenarios where the salary cap drops 10 to 15 percent as a result of the incident. Silver said Thursday that the league is willing to cope with whatever happens next with China, even if the financial consequences “continue to be fairly dramatic.”

The NBA’s regular season is now just days away, and the league’s China controversy hasn’t disappeared. Based on the protest at the Barclays Center on Friday night, it’s not going to anytime soon, either.

Kyrie Irving on the Barclays Center protests

Kyrie Irving made his Barclays Center debut on Friday night, dropping a team-high 19 points in the loss while shooting 7-of-17 from the field.

Irving — while wearing a “protect kids, not guns” shirt — was asked about the protests at the arena after the game, something that would have been hard to miss from the floor.

“When you think about communities across the world, I think that a lot of people would stand for world peace,” Irving said, via ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “Government gets involved and impacts different communities in different ways. The reality is that as individuals, it’s our job to stand up for what we believe in.

“Now I understand that Hong Kong and China is dealing with their issues, respectively, but there’s enough oppression and stuff going on in America for me to not be involved in the community issues here as well. That’s one of those four pillars that goes in the black community, colored people here still in America. Like we’re still fighting for everyday freedom.

“When I think about Hong Kong and China, the people are in an uproar. For us as Americans to comment on it, us as African Americans or American Indians to comment on that, you’re connected nonetheless — especially when it impacts freedoms or world peace.

“For me, as an individual, I stand up for those four pillars. When they’re being conflicted, I can understand why protesters come to the game. America was built on protesting, built on slavery … But things happen all across the world and we’re just taking notice and social media puts it right in front of everyone’s faces. If you’re not thinking with a selfless attitude, then you can come out and kind of get yourself caught up in a few things politically that really impacts a certain group of people in an area of the world.”

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