A large Hong Kong flag was seen waving in the middle of the crowd outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles during TNT’s coverage of Tuesday night's NBA season opener between the Lakers and Clippers -- and quickly sparked debate on social media.
Some praised the fan for waving the flag, while others said politics should be kept out of sports. Others tried to interpret whether TNT was taking a position in the dispute between Hong Kong and China, judging by how long the flag remained on screen.
The NBA became linked to the Hong Kong-China dispute earlier this month when the general manager of the Houston Rockets wrote a Twitter message in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators just as two NBA clubs -- the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets -- were beginning a visit to China to play a pair of preseason games and make promotional appearances.
The NBA drew criticism for a series of awkward comments -- by executives and players alike -- made in response to the Rockets executive's tweet, which was deleted. The NBA, as well as several other American companies, have received backlash for allegedly censoring their employees in an effort to preserve business relationships with China amid months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory.
Some Nets expressed support for Hong Kong when the team returned to Brooklyn. At Tuesday's game in Los Angeles, some fans there also showed the debate wasn't over.
“To the guy waving the Hong Kong flag in the middle of the NBA halftime show, and to TNT letting it fly, thank you,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Large Hong Kong flag flying between Ernie and Kennie. Let's see if TNT keeps showing it,” one user initially said. “TNT doesn't seem to be trying to hide it. Panning to the view that shows it about as much as normal,” the same user wrote later on.
Some Twitters users praised whoever in the crowd decided to wave the Hong Kong flag. While others online said the flag was an unwelcome attempt to bring politics into sports.
“WHOEVERS WAVING THE HONG KONG FLAG AT THE TNT THING OUTSIDE STAPLES CENTER IS A NATIONAL HERO,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Whoever waving the Hong Kong flag behind the NBA on TNT Studio needs to chill. STOP. POLITICIZING. SPORTS,” another user wrote.
One user speculated that the TNT broadcast would not air in China after the Hong Kong flag was allowed to remain on the screen.
“I take in TNT commentary doesn’t air in China cuz there’s a large Hong Kong flag .... and another I don’t recognize,” the Twitter user wrote.
Appearing on TNT pre-game analysis earlier Tuesday, Shaquille O'Neal rushed to the defense of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey amid the ongoing feud between the NBA and China. Morey sparked a firestorm Oct. 4 after he expressed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters on Twitter. Several prominent figures within the NBA have been reluctant to comment on the situation and criticize China, including outspoken anti-Trump critics such as Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and NBA superstar LeBron James.
Activists also planned to hand out more than 10,000 pro-Hong Kong T-shirts at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday after a crowdsourcing page set up by an NBA fan in Northern California raised nearly $43,000 in a span of two days, The Orange County Register reported.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.