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    Kyrie Irving leaves China game early after accidental Rondo hit to face mask

    Oct 10, 2019
    PHOTO: AP

    SHANGHAI — Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving left the team's preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers about one minute after tip-off after taking a hit to the face.

    Irving was attempting to play through a facial fracture, an injury that occurred in a pickup game last month. He was wearing a clear mask in an effort to protect his face, but appeared to bump into Lakers guard Rajon Rondo while playing defense just 1:06 into the contest.

    Irving's face made contact with Rondo's upper arm. The Nets guard immediately winced in pain, took the mask off and motioned to the bench that he needed a substitute.

    It was not immediately clear if Irving would return to the game.

    All of the usual media sessions surrounding the Lakers-Nets preseason game in Shanghai on Thursday — including a scheduled news conference from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and postgame news conferences with the teams — have been canceled. It's the latest salvo in the rift between the league and China stemming from a since-deleted tweet posted last week by Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.

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    "There will be no media availabilities for tonight's game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers," the NBA said in a statement Thursday, released a few hours before the game.

    The game was held as scheduled, with Lakers forward LeBron James and Nets guard Kyrie Irving getting loud ovations when they were introduced as starters. But neither national anthem was played before the game, and no players addressed the crowd before tip-off in a departure from tradition before such international games. Fans arriving at the arena to watch — many of them donning NBA jerseys — were handed small Chinese flags to carry with them inside, and at least one person carried a sign critical of Silver.

    "I understand that there are consequences from that exercise of, in essence, his freedom of speech," Silver said at a news conference in Tokyo earlier this week. "We will have to live with those consequences."

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    And this move was one of those consequences.

    Most seats were filled, and fans reacted as they would normally — oohs and aahs for good plays, applause for baskets, the loudest cheers coming whenever James touched the ball. Some fans may be upset with the NBA, but they still seem to have their favorite players.

    "If we have to choose, we will choose to support our country," said fan Ma Shipeng, who brought 900 flags to hand out to fellow fans. "We only like some particular basketball players, but we don't like NBA anymore. I give away Chinese flags tonight, as I hope people to put the national interest in front of following NBA. I will continue to support James. But none of our Chinese people would accept what Morey and Silver said."

    Morey's tweet expressed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and sparked fallout that has completely overshadowed the NBA's annual trip to China — which typically takes on a celebratory tone.

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    PHOTO: AP
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