Hong Kong protesters on Tuesday trampled LeBron James jerseys and gathered in a semicircle to watch one burn. James' standing among basketball fans in Hong Kong took a hit over his recent comments suggesting that free speech can have negative consequences.
The protesters chanted support for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who tweeted in support of their struggle on October 4, infuriating authorities in China. What the crowd of approximately 200 people chanted about James wasn't printable.
"People are angry," said James Lo, a web designer who runs a Hong Kong basketball fan page on Facebook. He said he's already received a video from a protester that showed him burning a No. 23 jersey bearing James' name.
He expects more, given the backlash from protesters who've been regularly hitting the streets of Hong Kong and battling police because of concerns that the international business hub is slowly losing its freedoms, which are unique in China.
"Students, they come out like every weekend. They've got tear-gassed and then they got gun-shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then (James) just comes up with something (like) that. We just can't accept that," Lo said.
Demonstrators set a Lebron James jersey on fire during a rally at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong, Tuesday, October 15, 2019. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN / AP
James made his comments Monday in response to a question about whether Morey should be punished for his tweet.
"Yes, we do have freedom of speech," James said. "But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you're not thinking about others — when you only think about yourself."
"So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually," he continued. "So just be careful what we tweet and what we say and what we do. Even though yes, we do have freedom of speech, it can be a lot of negative that comes with it."
NBA players weren't made available before or after games in China, which CCTV didn't broadcast, and several companies and state-run offices reportedly severed their ties with the NBA over Morey's tweet and the league's response to it.
A demonstrator stomps on Lebron James jerseys during a rally at the Southorn Playground on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN / AP
Protesters said James' comments smacked of a double-standard because he's used his clout as a sports headliner to press for social causes in the U.S.
"Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: 'Black lives matter.' Hong Kong lives also matter!" one of the protesters, 36-year-old office worker William Mok, said in addressing the applauding crowd.
Others said James' comments made it seem that he's more worried about money than people.
"James was trying, you know, to take a side, on the China side, which is like ridiculous," said Aaron Lee, a 36-year-old marketing director. "He was being honest, financially. Financial is money. Simple as that. LeBron James stands for money. Period."