British Columbia

NBA pre-season game in Vancouver attracts pro-Hong Kong, pro-Grizzlies protest rallies

A group of protesters who support democracy in Hong Kong say they are going to demonstrate at a pre-season NBA game in Vancouver Thursday and test whether the league supports freedom of speech after fans were removed from two other games in the U.S.

Hong Kong democracy supporters and Vancouver Grizzlies fans will be at Rogers Arena

Former Vancouver Grizzlies star Shareef Abdur-Rahim drives the lane while defended by Dallas Mavericks forward Gary Trent at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas January 25, 2001. The team became the Mephis Grizzlies later that year. (Reuters)

A National Basketball Association pre-season game in Vancouver on Thursday is attracting attention from fans as well as protesters with two separate groups organizing starkly different demonstrations.

A group that supports democracy in Hong Kong is planning to protest against human rights abuses at the hands of the government of China while superfans of the now defunct Vancouver Grizzlies will rally to bring a professional basketball team back to the city.

The NBA is embroiled in the biggest controversy in sports right now, after tweets made by the Houston Rockets' general manager and L.A. Lakers superstar LeBron James over long-running pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Protest organizer Lee Haber said people who support the Hong Kong demonstrators will rally inside and outside Thursday's game at Rogers Arena, where the L.A. Clippers — including former Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard — are set to play the Dallas Mavericks.

"We want to test the NBA: Do you really stand for freedom of speech?" Haber said. 

"Will they support us standing for Hong Kong? Will they allow us to do that or will people who support Hong Kong be kicked out like we've seen in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.?"

Media relations manager Stephanie Maniago with Canucks Sports and Entertainment based in Rogers Arena, said in a statement: "We are aware of the potential protests and are currently gathering more info and consulting with local agencies and the NBA."

NBA-China controversy not going away

After Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for freedom in Hong Kong, the league issued a statement to emphasize that he does not speak for the NBA.

But the league says it supports freedom of speech.

For its part, China is said to be reviewing its deals with the NBA.

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James has entered the debate over Hong Kong protesters. (TonyDejak/The Associated Press)

Recent comments by L.A. Lakers star basketball player LeBron James have further inflamed tensions. He said Morey "was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation" when he tweeted in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests.

Haber said the glamour of professional sports and the desire to tap into China's market should not trump concern for human rights.

"We're not going to get dazzled by the spectacle into forgetting about what's happened," he said.

Rally to bring NBA back to Vancouver

Meanwhile there is another rally being organized for the same day to bring an NBA team back to Vancouver.

Vancouver Grizzlies superfan Kat Jayme made the documentary, Finding Big Country about Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, one of the team's biggest stars.

Jayme said the pre-season game is an opportunity to put the city's potential on display.

"We just want to have fun and show the NBA and potential investors that we have a great fanbase here in Vancouver and we are ready for a second chance at that," said Jayme.

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