from ESPN News Services
Protestors in Hong Kong cheered when a ball dropped into the basket after smashing into a photo of LeBron James‘ face that was placed above the hoop.
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 after his comments about the ongoing protests and free speech. Fans gathered on courts amid Hong Kong’s high-rise buildings Tuesday to vent their anger.
The Los Angeles Lakers star touched a nerve among protesters for suggesting that free speech can have negative consequences. Anti-government protesters have gathered for months in Hong Kong, partly in defense of free speech, which James said can carry “a lot of negative.”
What the crowd of some 200 people chanted about James wasn’t fit for print.
“People are angry,” said James Lo, a web designer who runs a Hong Kong basketball fan page on Facebook. He said he received a video from a protester that showed him burning a No. 23 jersey bearing James’ name.
James made his comments in response to a question about whether Morey should be punished for the tweet, which caused an international controversy 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 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.”
China’s state television, CCTV, canceled plans to broadcast exhibition games played in China last week, NBA players weren’t made availablebefore or after the games, and several companies and state-run offices severed ties with the NBA over Morey’s tweet and the league’s response to it.
Protesters said James’ comments presented a double standard because he has used his clout to press for social causes in the United States.
Others said James’ comments made it seem as if he’s more concerned 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.