NEW YORK — Following a Brooklyn Nets preseason game Friday that saw two groups of protesters wearing T-shirts that said “Stand with Hong Kong,” guard Kyrie Irving met with reporters and talked for the first time about his thoughts on last week’s tense trip to China.
Irving specifically addressed what transpired in a closed-door meeting between players and NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Oct. 9 in Shanghai, saying he intended to keep what he said in the meeting private.
“I don’t know whose notes, or who is in there that you can’t really depend on to keep a conversation like that in house — especially when it is about the NBA brand and the NBA players being impacted by it,” he said. “I stand for four things, man. Inner peace. Freedom. Equality and world peace. So, if that is being conflicted inside of me, I am definitely going to have something to say, and I left it in that room.”
Irving went on to say that he had further conversations with his teammates, which he didn’t elaborate on, and as a group, they decided to “move forward and play the game.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin previously reported that Irving had asked aloud whether the Nets and Los Angeles Lakers should consider not playing because of the political tension.
Since their return to the United States, the Nets have been mute on the issues that have swirled around the league after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent out a tweet in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong. Morey’s seven-word tweet caused upheaval around the league. In China, banners promoting the games between the Nets and Lakers were stripped from the sides of buildings, community events were canceled and players were instructed not to speak with media.
Since their return to Brooklyn, the message from the Nets had been that the tension was in the past and they were determined to move on as a group. At Friday’s game, though, two groups of protesters showed up wearing T-shirts that said “Stand with Hong Kong” and holding signs that read “Morey or Money?” and began to chant, “Shame on Joe Tsai!”
Tsai, who gained full ownership of the Nets in August, was born in Taiwan and is based in Hong Kong. After Morey sent out his initial tweet, Tsai made a statement of his own on his personal Facebook page. In his post, Tsai wrote that Morey’s tweet was “damaging” to Chinese fans.
“I don’t know Daryl personally,” Tsai wrote, in part. “I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”
On Friday night, Barclays Center security removed some of the signs, one protester told ESPN, but they were not asked to leave the arena. A 23-year-old woman from Toronto told ESPN that she traveled from Canada specifically to attend the protest.
Both Nets center Jarrett Allen, who was wearing an NBA China sweatshirt, and coach Kenny Atkinson declined to comment on the protesters in attendance. Atkinson said he did notice them but was more focused on Brooklyn’s double-digit deficit in a 123-107 loss to the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Irving said he understood why the protesters came to Barclays.
“I understand that Hong Kong and China is dealing with their issues, respectively,” Irving said. “But there is enough oppression and stuff going on in America for me not to be involved in the community issues here as well.”
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