Loong-Lions 76ers Basketball

Fans hold signs ahead of a an NBA exhibition basketball game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Guangzhou Loong-Lions on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A Philadelphia 76ers fan said he was ejected from the Wells Fargo Center after holding up signs and shouting in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong during the NBA team’s exhibition game Tuesday night against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Sam Wachs and his wife were sitting just rows behind the visitors’ bench when, early in the first quarter, they held up green fluorescent poster paper signs with “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK” inscribed on them.

Wachs said in an interview that security guards took the signs away and then ejected the couple after he shouted “Free Hong Kong” midway through the second quarter.

Wachs said he was disappointed that he got evicted before Sixers player Ben Simmons sank a 3-pointer during the team’s 144-86 victory over the Loong-Lions. “I’m sorry I missed it,” he said.

The incident came hours after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to smooth over a brewing dispute with China sparked by a tweet Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted and then deleted supporting the Hong Kong protesters. Basketball is very popular in China, and the NBA has a $1.5 billion deal with a Chinese streaming company to broadcast its games.

Wachs, 33, who lived in Hong Kong for a time in his 20s, said he had not planned the protest before the controversy erupted over Morey’s tweet.

“It brought a human rights issued to the NBA,” said Wachs, who described himself as a big Sixers fan. “I felt I had to do something.”

“I don’t think the NBA should be bending over backwards to please China,” said Wachs, a video and podcast producer for a Philadelphia non-profit.

He said he also was disappointed that the Sixers tried to distance themselves from the issue and “just pretended to say nothing.”

The Sixers did not immediately respond to requests for comments about the eviction of Wachs and his wife.

6ABC reporter Christie Ileto tweeted a shaky cell phone video showing Wachs and his wife being evicted.

The Wells Fargo Center’s policy for signs requires that signs be no larger than 14 inches by 14 inches, not attached to a stick or a pole, and “be in good taste, and appropriate for the event.”

“This policy is subject to change based on The Wells Fargo Center management’s discretion and without notice,” its says.

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