A Toronto group that supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests made their way to Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday to hand out thousands of free T-shirts to Raptors fans.
“Of course, we still plan on being there,” Mimi Lee, organizer of the Torontonian HongKongers Action Group, told Global News ahead of the game.
“We will be there this evening before the gates even open.”
The group’s GoFundMe page has raised more than $34,000 in order to print 7,000 “The North Stand with Hong Kong” shirts.
“They are all ready to go,” Lee said.
Appalled by what she calls China’s “refusal to grant basic human rights” and the “NBA bowing down to Beijing,” Lee and about 100 volunteers will hand out the T-shirts as a form of peaceful protest.
The NBA has been caught in the midst of the Hong Kong protests after a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey showed support for the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been taking place over the last four months.
“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” the tweet read.
But Morey later deleted his tweet after Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted a response saying the general manager does not speak for the Rockets organization.
The protests in Hong Kong were sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill but have widened into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality in a city with some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
Lebron James later added to the controversy by saying Morey “wasn’t educated” when he tweeted his support.
“The league is distancing itself from a team executive who dared to support the protests,” Lee said. “This is about sponsorship and promotions.”
In the wake of the tweets, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview that Chinese officials urged the NBA to fire Morey. The Chinese government denied making that request.
According to the South China Morning Post, state broadcaster China Central Television warned Silver he would receive “retribution sooner or later.”
“The losses have already been substantial,” Silver said during a sitdown at the first TIME 100 Health summit, explaining that NBA games were subsequently cut from Chinese television.
“We will see what happens next,” he said. “I am not even sure where we will go from here.”
The backlash stateside has also been strong.
While several NBA policies state signs with political messages are not allowed at games, demonstrators still gathered during a match in New York between the Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
Close to 100 people donned “Stand with Hong Kong” and “Free Tibet” shirts.
Meanwhile, just days ago in Vancouver, pro-democracy protesters showed up to a preseason game at the Rogers Centre.
Global News has reached out to the NBA and the Raptors for comment but has not heard back.
— With a file from Reuters