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Charles Barkley says Mike Pence ‘needs to shut the hell up’ over NBA-China criticism

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Vice President Pence took aim at the NBA Thursday, accusing the league of having ignored human-rights abuses and “kowtowed” to China. Charles Barkley wasn’t having it.

Pence “needs to shut the hell up,” Barkley said on TNT’s nationally televised pregame show.

The commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, happened to be three seats over from Barkley at the time, and did not respond directly to the outspoken Hall of Famer’s comments. Silver was widely criticized earlier this month for the NBA’s initial reaction to a tweet sent by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The league described Morey’s tweet as “regrettable” before making more forceful assertions that Morey had the right to express his opinion and would not be punished in any way. “Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so,” Silver said at the time.

The commissioner claimed last week that Chinese governmental and business representatives asked for Morey’s firing only to be told that “there’s no chance that’s happening.”

Silver added that in the wake of Morey’s tweet and the league’s support for his right to free speech, the “financial consequences” in China “have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

Pence referred to Morey’s tweet, which was quickly deleted, while making wide-ranging criticisms of China in an appearance at the Wilson Center in Northwest Washington. He made pointed assertions about not only the NBA but also Nike, a close corporate partner of the league.

“Far too many American multinational corporations have kowtowed to the lure of China’s money and markets, by muzzling not only criticism of the Chinese Communist Party but even affirmative expressions of American values,” Pence declared. “Nike promotes itself as a so-called ‘social justice champion,’ but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.

“Nike stores in China actually removed their Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves to join the Chinese government in protest against the Rockets general manager’s seven-word tweet, which read: ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.’”

Moving to the NBA, Pence said that some of the league’s “biggest players and owners,” who “routinely exercise their freedom to criticize” the United States, “lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China.”

“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech,” he continued, “the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime.”

That was too much for Barkley, who has defended the NBA and all-star players whose comments have fueled the ongoing controversy, such as LeBron James and James Harden.

Repeating for emphasis that “all American companies are doing business in China,” Barkley told TNT’s viewers, “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,” he continued. “But I don’t understand why all these holier-than-thou politicians, if they so want to worry about China, why don’t they stop all transactions with China?”

“I think it’s unfair for them to do all their business in China,” Barkley added, “and just because this thing happened, try to make the NBA and our players look bad.”

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James, who was in China for a pair of exhibition games between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets while the controversy mounted, as was Silver, took flak for criticizing Morey when he returned to the U.S. After telling reporters that the general manager “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand,” James took to Twitter in an attempt to further explain himself, writing, “My team and this league just went through a difficult week.”

Harden, whose Rockets were in Japan when their general manager sent his tweet, offered a statement of regret three days later.

“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said, speaking for himself and Houston teammate Russell Westbrook. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”

“Morey has the right to freedom of speech, but he also has to understand that he works for the Houston Rockets,” Barkley said recently to The Post. “That’s the No. 1 brand in China for the NBA because of their affiliation with [former Rockets center] Yao Ming. You can’t insult a foreign country and go make money there. …

“Everybody in this country does business in China,” Barkley added. “All of a sudden, these people want to get on LeBron and Adam Silver for trying to protect their money. Why should [James] sacrifice his money because of some tweet this fool put out? Why should [the NBA] sacrifice their billions?”

Shaquille O’Neal weighs in on the NBA-China controversy: ‘Daryl Morey was right’

James has been highly critical of President Trump, as have some other players in the NBA and several coaches, including Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors. Asked separately for their thoughts on China earlier this month, Kerr said he needed to read further on the topic before commenting, while Popovich praised Silver’s leadership and contrasted it with “what we’ve had to live through the past three years.”

Trump subsequently used a question about the NBA-China issue at a White House briefing earlier this month to take jabs at Kerr and Popovich, accusing the former of reacting “like a little boy” and “shaking” at the thought of speaking out about China. Popovich, Trump said, “didn’t look quite as scared” as Kerr but still did not “want to say anything bad” about China after showing a willingness to “talk badly about the United States.”

Pence didn’t single out anyone in the league but it was apparent that, as part of his criticisms of China, he had a goal of highlighting his administration’s unhappiness with the NBA.

“A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights is not progressive, it is repressive,” said the vice president. “When American corporations, professional sports, pro athletes embrace censorship, it’s not just wrong — it’s un-American. American corporations should stand up for American values, here at home, and around the world.”

Later, on TNT, Silver responded to Pence’s comments by stating that “from the first moment” of China’s backlash to Morey’s tweet, “we’ve adhered to our core values.” He said the NBA was intent on “engaging with the people of China, and India, and throughout Africa and around the world, regardless of their governments.”

“Certainly, where the U.S. government tells us we should be doing business in certain territories or countries, we won’t,” Silver said. “But I’m a firm believer that through sports, independent of government, you bring people together, they acknowledge that commonality, they create empathy.”

“This league, for decades, has been on the ground in China, spreading the game, teaching the values of this game,” he added. “And I think those are core American values, and we’ve never wavered.”

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