HONG KONG (AP) When the ball smashed into a photo of LeBron James face stuck above the hoop and dropped into the basket, the Hong Kong protesters cheered.
They also trampled on jerseys bearing his name and gathered in a semicircle to watch one burn.
James standing among basketball fans in Hong Kong took a hit because of comments the NBA star made about free speech. Fans gathered on courts amid Hong Kongs high-rise buildings Tuesday to vent their anger.
The player for the Los Angeles Lakers touched a nerve among protesters for suggesting that free speech can have negative consequences. They have been protesting for months in defense of the same freedom that James said can carry a lot of negative.
READ MORE: NBA says it supports freedom of speech after Hong Kong tweet
The protesters chanted support for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, something of a hero among demonstrators in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory for having tweeted on Oct. 4 in support of their struggle, infuriating authorities in China.
What the crowd of approximately 200 people chanted about James wasnt printable.
People are angry, said James Lo, a web designer who runs a Hong Kong basketball fan page on Facebook. He said hes 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 whove 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. Theyve got tear gassed and then they got gun-shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then he (James) just comes up with something (like) that. We just cant accept that.
James made his comments in response to a question about whether Morey should be punished for his tweet that reverberated in China and had consequences for the NBA.
Yes, we do have freedom of speech, James said. But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when youre not thinking about others, when you only think about yourself.
READ MORE: In Chinas film industry, the Communist Party is in the directors chair
He added: So many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually. 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 werent made available before or after games in China, which CCTV didnt broadcast, and several companies and state-run offices reportedly severed their ties with the NBA over Moreys tweet and the leagues response to it.
Protesters said James comments smacked of a double-standard, because hes used his clout as a sports headliner to press for social causes in the United States.
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 LeBrons comments made it seem that hes 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.
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