The spectre of the NBA's row with China loomed over season-opening games in Toronto and Los Angeles, with activists in both cities distributing T-shirts in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
In Toronto, pro-Hong Kong activists handed out black T-shirts bearing the slogan "The North Stand with Hong Kong" ahead of the Raptors' opener against the New Orleans Pelicans.
A similar scene unfolded outside the Staples Centre in California, where the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers faced off in their much-anticipated opening game.
Activists said they had produced around 10,000 T-shirts carrying the slogan "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong".
The text of the T-shirt was identical to the wording in a tweet posted by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey earlier this month which plunged the NBA into crisis with China.
The T-shirt protest in Los Angeles was arranged by an activist who uses the pseudonym Sun Lared, who reportedly raised US$43,000 through crowdfunding site GoFundMe to pay for the shirts.
Separately, the flag of Hong Kong was seen being waved behind television pundits outside the Staples Centre during the TNT television broadcast of the Lakers-Clippers game.
Fans from both Los Angeles teams voiced support for Hong Kong.
"It's always tough to use sports as a political device to talk about, you know, politics," Lakers fan Ray Campbell said. "But sometimes it's necessary."
Clippers fan Christian Macias added: "Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong. I agree with it 100%, I feel like we are all humans and we all need to help each other."
Meanwhile on the mainland, state television kept the NBA's opening games off the air. But Chinese internet giant Tencent, however, showed the two games on its streaming service. (AFP)
HK supporters grab focus at NBA season-openers
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