NBA fans booted from 76ers game over “Free Hong Kong” signs — in Philadelphia

The fact that this happened not just in any ol’ NBA city but in the birthplace of independence, at the home arena for a team named after the American revolution, is the perfect Orwellian flourish to this dystopian NBA/China fiasco.

The Sixers were playing an exhibition game against a team from China too, so the league’s … “sensitivities” to all things Hong Kong was higher than usual. And yet, as eager as I am to fly off the handle about this, a question must be asked:

Does the league usually allow political signs at games? You don’t see much political sloganeering in the stands at American spectator sports, partly because most fans leave that behind when they’re in game mode but partly because the teams recognize it’s bad for business. The risk of political squabbles breaking out among paying customers and the risk to the team in being sucked into political disputes makes a zero-tolerance policy towards political signs — of any stripe — the safest option.

So, again, was this a case of the Sixers enforcing a neutral policy or are Hong Kong supporters being singled out for special suppression? Because if it’s the latter, it’s another data point that the Chinese are assimilating U.S. corporations into their values system, not vice versa.

Here are Wachs and his wife being booted from the game:

CBS Philly looked into whether there’s a policy against this sort of thing:

According to the Wells Fargo Center’s website, “signs must be in good taste and appropriate for the event.” The site also notes the “policy is subject to change based on the Wells Fargo Center management’s discretion and without notice.”

The NBA’s policy prohibits “obscene or indecent messages on signs or clothing,” but does not mention political statements.

Wachs claims that when security guards saw his Hong Kong signs, they told him “no politics.” The Sixers will doubtless say that they do indeed have a neutral “no political signs” policy but that’s not really the issue. Do they enforce it? If I bring a “Trump 2020” or “Biden 2020” sign to the game, will I actually be kicked out or will that be ignored as a de minimis infraction whereas “Free Hong Kong” is unacceptable because it annoys Adam Silver’s Chinese masters?

Should the NBA have a “no political signs,” by the way? A Twitter pal notes that it’s rich that the world’s “wokest professional sports league” has no problem with activism among coaches and players, up to and including political messages being worn on warm-up attire before the game, while the plebes who pay their salaries are forbidden to broadcast their own views during NBA events.

China, meanwhile, continues to grind its boot in the NBA’s face because of a single pro-Hong-Kong tweet by a single employee of a single team.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA Cares event in Shanghai was canceled Wednesday just hours before it was scheduled to begin, according to multiple reports. The cancellation is the latest fallout from a recent tweet by Rockets GM Daryl Morey that showed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

The NBA said the cancellation off the Lakers event, which was supposed to benefit the Special Olympics, was not its decision.

This came a day after the Chinese government canceled the Nets’ NBA Cares event.

The Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play two exhibition games this week but banners in Shanghai promoting the game are being taken down, so who knows? China’s obviously sending a message to the league that any further pro-HK statements — by anyone — will risk a total rupture of the NBA’s relationship with China. Does anyone think a single person connected to the league will dare call their bluff in the name of supporting human rights in Hong Kong?

The worst part of the Sam Wachs sign incident, by the way, is that if the Sixers didn’t have a “no political signs” policy before — or if they did but weren’t enforcing it — they certainly will now. In order to feign neutrality while carrying out censorship at China’s behest, they’ll take away *more* freedom by paying customers at NBA games. Again, between Chinese totalitarianism and western capitalism, who’s assimilating whom?

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