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 Kong’s 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.”
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 wasn’t printable.
“People are angry,” said James Lo, a web designer who runs a Hong Kong basketball fan page on Facebook. He said he’s 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 who’ve 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. 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 (James) just comes up with something (like) that. We just can’t accept that.”
James made his…