Former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley said Vice President Mike Pence "needs to shut the hell up" regarding Pence's criticism of the NBA's handling of its controversy with China.
The NBA's business relationship with China was damaged when Daryl Morey, general manager for the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Since that tweet, NBA players, coaches, and league officials have been careful not to say anything to offend the Chinese.
Pence called out the NBA on Thursday for not standing up for Hong Kong.
"Some of the NBA's biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of other people," Pence said. "In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime."
Barkley took offense to Pence's stance and accused the vice president of hypocrisy.
"First of all, Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up," Barkley said Thursday during TNT's pregame show. "All American companies are doing business in China. ... I don't understand why these holier-than-thou politicians, if they're so worried about China, why don't they stop all transactions with China?"
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also responded (a bit less forcefully) to Pence's criticism.
"We've adhered to our core values from the first moment," Silver said. "To the extent that there was any doubt about that, we reinforced that those are our core values. And I'll just say again, once again, we're going to double down on engaging with the people of China and India and throughout Africa, around the world, regardless of their governments."
The same criticism Pence is issuing toward the NBA could very well be aimed at President Donald Trump. While Pence has openly supported Hong Kong, the president has not taken any stance on the dispute between mainland China and Hong Kong, and CNN reported that President Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. would stay silent on the issue during trade negotiations.
Trump's own comments on Hong Kong have been neutral.
"Well, something is probably happening with Hong Kong because when you look at, you know, what's going on, they've had riots for a long period of time," Trump said in August. "And I don't know what China's attitude is. Somebody said that at some point they're going to want to stop that. But that's between Hong Kong and that's between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China. They'll have to deal with that themselves. They don't need advice."