Charles Barkley: Mike Pence 'needs to shut the hell up' on NBA, China

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 its response to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet while speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

“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.”

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 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 protestors in their ongoing conflict with an oppressive Chinese regime.

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Police fire tear gas at protesters in Hong Kong
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Police fire tear gas at protesters in Hong Kong
Riot police fire tear gas during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters with protection gears face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A man scuffles with riot policemen after he refuse to let policemen search his bag, in North Point neighborhood during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters jump over MTR gates as they move to another destination during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters try to throw a tear gas canister into a drain as they face off with riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Commuters react from tear gas inside a MTR station as protesters face off with riot policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters with protection gears face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
A woman reacts from tear gas inside a MTR station as protesters face off with riot policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters with protection gears prepare to face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters with protection gears prepare to face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use laser pointers beam at policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use laser pointers beam at policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters with protection gears face with riot policemen on a street during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use water to put off tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
A protester wearing a military costume waves a U.S. flag as they face with riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use traffic cones to cover the tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
A protester throws a tear gas canister fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use traffic cones to cover the tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
A street is shrouded by tear gas fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Riot police fire tear gas during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A protester throws a tear gas canister fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use traffic cones to cover the tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters react with tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Protesters use traffic cones to cover the tear gas canisters fired by riot policemen during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
A riot policeman gestures as they face off with protesters on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A protester throws a tear gas canister as they face off with riot policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters throw tear gas canisters as they face off with riot policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Riot police fire tear gas during the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Police fired tear gas late Sunday afternoon to try to disperse a demonstration in Hong Kong as protesters took over streets in two parts of the Asian financial capital, blocking traffic and setting up another night of likely showdowns with riot police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Varios manifestantes sostienen carteles mostrando a manifestantes, personal sanitario y otras personas asistiendo a un activista herido, junto al mensaje "Juntos" durante una marcha contra una reforma de las extradiciones en Shum Shui, en Hong Kong, el domingo 11 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Kin Cheung)
Manifestantes moviendo una estructura de acero para bloquear calles durante una protesta contra la reforma de las extradiciones en Hong Kong, el domingo 11 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Kin Cheung)
Protesters and residents take part in the anti-extradition bill protest march at Shum Shui Po in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Separate protests were being held in two parts of Hong Kong on Sunday in a continuing series of demonstrations that have generally started peacefully but often ended in violent clashes with police.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Protesters and residents take part in the anti-extradition bill protest march at Shum Shui Po in Hong Kong, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Separate protests were being held in two parts of Hong Kong on Sunday in a continuing series of demonstrations that have generally started peacefully but often ended in violent clashes with police. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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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?”

Barkley’s TNT set-mate and frequent protagonist 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,” O’Neal said. “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.

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