Despite China’s ongoing spat with the NBA over Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet, the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, two American teams in the basketball league, played a preseason game on October 10 in a Shanghai stadium packed with thousands of passionate fans. The crowd reportedly cheered and clapped when the teams entered the stadium.
The atmosphere at the Mercedes-Benz Arena was a stark contrast to the outrage directed against the NBA on Chinese social media, where large numbers of internet users called for a boycott of the league over its defense of the controversial tweet in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Nationalistic internet users called the fans who attended the game “spineless and shameless traitors” who put personal entertainment over national interests. Some extremists even went as far as suggesting punishments for the audience members.
“In such an ideal situation, where people across the nation are coming together in solidarity to protest against the NBA, how come these traitors sang the praises of an organization that insulted China?” an angry Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), suggesting that employers of the attendees should fire them due to their “incorrect political views.”
One protester was spotted in the crowd by internet users: A photo that went viral on Weibo shows the person holding a poster that reads, “Morey must apologize to China.”
According to videos circulating on the Chinese internet, at one point during the game, the superstar player LeBron James received a chorus of “MVP” chants from the zealous crowd. After the clips of that moment attracted a lot of traction on Weibo, hashtag #詹姆斯# and #詹姆斯球迷# have been trending on the platform. “James’ greatness is undeniable, but do you have to support him at this critical point? There are plenty of opportunities for you to see James in the future, but definitely not now!” a longtime fan of LeBron James wrote (in Chinese). “The rest of the world is watching us!”
One thing that particularly irked patriotic internet users was that some basketball fans at the game asked players to sign their autograph on national flags. “Those who asked for autographs were especially disgusting! We need to dox them and get them properly punished,” a Weibo user commented.
Others came to the defense of the attendees, arguing that criticism of them was unnecessarily harsh-worded. “Stop condemning people you disagree with as traitors because it doesn’t make you superior and doesn’t bring anything good for the country,” WeChat blogger 雷斯林 wrote (in Chinese). “Whether you love your country or not depends on how much contribution you make and how much value you create, but not how loudly you chant slogans.”