NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers deny anti-Israel socialist group influenced end of team’s ‘Hometown Hero’ veterans program
The NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers issued a statement Thursday night, denying that the team’s “Hometown Hero” partnership with a supplier to the U.S. military ended because of “external pressure.”
The team’s statement, posted via Twitter, followed a recent report in Willamette Week, that said several organizations – including the Portland Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – had opposed the basketball team’s relationship with rifle-scope manufacturer Leupold & Stevens, which supplies the devices to the U.S. military and the armed forces of other countries, including Israel, which the socialist group described as a "brutal occupying force."
In its statement, the NBA team said the military contractor, not the basketball team, chose to end the partnership, in which local veterans were honored at the team’s home games.
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“Leupold’s sponsorship contract officially expired at the end of last season and Leupold & Stevens made the decision not to renew,” the Trail Blazers said in a statement. “Their decision was business-related and not influenced by external pressure as being misreported by certain media outlets.”
After the Blazers’ statement appeared, Portland’s democratic socialists posted a copy on Twitter, accompanied by a mocking GIF of the Marcia character from a “Brady Bunch” movie saying, “Sure, Jan.”
The socialists had also claimed victory when the Willamette Week story appeared.
“We are grateful for the hard work of the many community groups, activists, Blazers fans, and veterans who united around this important issue to stand up for Palestinian human rights,” Portland DSA co-chair Olivia Katbi Smith said in a statement, according to Willamette Week. “We are relieved that the Blazers have done the right thing and finally ended this completely unnecessary partnership with a company that has provided sniper scopes to a brutal occupying force.”
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According to Willamette Week, a “Hometown Hero” segment at a Trail Blazers game last season saw a member of the Portland socialist group – who was a former Marine Corps security guard -- suddenly unzip his jacket and reveal a shirt with the words, “End This Sponsorship #NoLeupold.”
Katbi Smith said the group also planned to protest the Trail Blazers’ Thursday night preseason game against a visiting team from Israel, Maccabi Haifa.
A Twitter post appeared later, showing DSA members holding a banner outside the game reading, “Don’t Play Apartheid.”
The NBA has been under fire recently for what some viewed as a poor response to the Chinese government after the general manager of the Houston Rockets spoke out in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.
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Critics of various political persuasions argued that the basketball league did not initially react strongly enough in support of free speech, possibly out of concern for potential risks to its business interests in communist China.
After the Rockets executive’s statement, Chinese officials canceled several events surrounding a visit to Shanghai this week by the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, but the teams’ scheduled game in Shangahi, on Thursday morning in the U.S., was played as scheduled.
The Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play a second game in China on Saturday morning, U.S. time, before returning to the U.S.