NBA Fans Are Standing With Hong Kong At The Lakers-Clippers Season Opener

File: A man walks past an advertisement for scheduled exhibition games in China between the LA Lakers and Brooklyn Nets at the NBA store in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

Tonight's NBA season opener at Staples Center offers a first look at the reinvigorated rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers. It will also be a test for the NBA as it walks a political tightrope over its handling of fallout from pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Potentially thousands of fans in L.A. could be wearing T-shirts tonight in solidarity with Hong Kongers who have been fighting Chinese influence for months, and also for Darryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets who ignited an international incident with China on Oct. 4 when he tweeted his support for the protesters.

The shirts are the brainchild of a Bay-area man going by the pseudonym Sun Lared, who was upset by how Chinese censors and sponsors retaliated against the NBA in the wake of Morey's tweet.

"Lared" would say only that he is a thirtysomething Taiwanese American who works in tech and hates that China has gotten U.S. businesses to self-censor.

He decided to design and order pro-Hong Kong shirts to give out at the season opener and raised $43,000 in less than two days — enough, he said on his GoFundMe page, to have 13,000 black shirts made that read: "Fight For Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."

Several hundred Hong Kong supporters donned similar T-shirts during an Oct. 18 pre-season match between the Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors. But the scale of the T-shirt order for tonight's Lakers-Clippers match, provided fans wear the shirts, could make the visuals in Staples the most dramatic to date.

The question is whether NBA fans will want to take a stand on free speech and the Hong Kong protesters, or if they just want to enjoy a politics-free rivalry between two L.A. teams, each of which have electrified the league by acquiring powerhouse players.

Ramon Diosdado of Fontana took a shirt but said he's been waiting too long for this game to cover up his Lakers jersey.

But Clippers fan Ernesto Becerra of Upland said he'll put on the shirt inside Staples to show support for Hong Kong protesters and also to challenge LeBron for critiquing Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

It's not clear how the NBA will respond to thousands of people at the game wearing protest T-shirts. An unnamed source told the Wall Street Journal that the league "respects peaceful demonstrations and does not believe they will be a disruptive issue during NBA games this season." But the league has also established policies barring political signs at games, according to the Journal.

Lakers star LeBron James only added more fuel to the NBA-China turmoil last week by publicly critiquing Morey as being uneducated about the situation in Hong Kong before he tweeted. "So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually," James said.

After receiving backlash for his comments, James said that he would not discuss the substance of Morey's tweet.

Commissioner Adam Silver initially called the reaction to Morey's tweet "regrettable" but has since clarified that the league supports free speech and will not police what players, team owners or employees say.

Lared told LAist that he hoped the NBA would stand strong against China and that the T-shirts were a way for spectators to remind the league that their biggest fan base was in the U.S.

"I think it's important for us to stand for free speech alongside the people of Hong Kong and to stand against foreign attempts at forcing us into self-censorship," he said.

UPDATES:

6:52 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from fans.

6:26 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information and tweets from Sun Lared.

This article was originally published at 4:49 p.m.