On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence staked his claim in the China-NBA controversy.
He had choice words for the NBA and its leaders over their response to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet while speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
“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 peoples,” 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: ‘Pence needs to shut the hell up’
Pence has an established critical stance of athletes expressing their free speech regarding social justice issues, and his comments Thursday drew the ire of outspoken TNT commentator Charles Barkley during the network’s pregame show.
“Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up, number one,” Barkley said as NBA commissioner Adam Silver sat on set. “All American companies are doing business in China. I thought the criticism of commissioner Silver and LeBron James was unfair. Daryl Morey — who I like — he can say whatever he wants to. But there are consequences.
“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? President Trump has been talking about and arguing with tariffs for China for the last two years. I think it’s unfair for them to do all their business in China and just because this thing happens try to make the NBA and our players look bad. All American companies do business in China. Period.”
Barkley’s stance on China
Barkley made his stance on the controversy clear on Monday, expressing sympathy for James and other NBA athletes under fire for either remaining silent on the issue or speaking critically of Morey, who tweeted support of Hong Kong protesters in their ongoing conflict with an oppressive Chinese regime.
James attacked Morey’s tweet as misinformed in his first public statement on the issue that prioritized his and the NBA’s business interests in China over freedom of expression concerns and the plight of the people of Hong Kong. Barkley, a Nike spokesman who has his own business interests related to China, spoke bluntly about the reality of those business concerns in an interview with TMZ.
“I thought everybody was really unfair to LeBron,” Barkley said. “Everybody does business in China. Every American company does business in China. Why should LeBron not be able to protect his financial interests — and the NBA and Nike?”
Shaq has different take
Barkley’s TNT set-mate and frequent antagonist Shaquille O’Neal took a different stance on Wednesday, choosing to focus on free speech concerns while supporting Morey.
"One of our best values here in America is free speech,” O’Neal said on TNT. “We're allowed to say what we want to say, and we’re allowed to speak out on injustices, and that's just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something they have to deal with.
“Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say 'that's not right' and that's what he did.”
As the debate over freedom of expression roils on, Barkley and O’Neal continue to take full advantage of their platforms to speak freely.
More from Yahoo Sports: