Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have burned and stamped on LeBron James jerseys after the basketball star said free speech could have negative consequences.
The demonstrations in the semi-autonomous region of China, which have lasted months and seen fierce clashes with riot police, opened an unexpected new front in the US this month when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protesters.
His tweet caused outrage in China, reflecting Beijing’s sensitivity over criticism of its efforts to quell the pro-democracy movement.
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Los Angeles Laker player James this week appeared to side against the protesters.
Asked if Morey should be punished for his tweet, James – one of the world’s richest sportsmen – said: “Yes, we do have freedom of speech.
“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.”
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.”
Hundreds of people gathered in Hong Kong to denounce his comments and to chant in support of Morey.
One of James’s number 23 shirts was set alight and others were trampled on the ground, while demonstrators held up pictures of James crying.
James Lo, a web designer who runs a basketball fan page, said: “People are angry. 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 he just comes up with something (like) that. We just can’t accept that.”
William Mok, another protester, said: “Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: ‘Black lives matter.’ Hong Kong lives also matter.”