The China/NBA debacle rolls on, this time involving a verbal spat between Vice President Mike Pence and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. The “Round Mound of Rebound” is touchy over criticism that his former league won’t risk money to call out the human rights abuses of the Chinese communist government, becoming instead the “Round Mound of ‘Shut the Hell Up.’”
Good. It sounds like Pence hit a nerve.
It all started on Thursday when Pence called out the American sports league’s lack of balls (for lack of a better term) in the face of communist China’s petulant reaction to a pro-Hong Kong tweet from a franchise GM. He stated, “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” also adding that it’s “un-American” for U.S. companies to “embrace censorship.”
This made Sir Charles cranky. He responded to the VP’s comments during a Thursday night NBA pregame broadcast. “Mike Pence needs to shut the hell up, number one,” he snapped, adding, “All American companies are doing business in China.”
Barkley mentioned that he felt the criticism of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Lebron James was “unfair,” and then gave his thoughts on Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and his pro-Hong Kong tweet that started this whole affair.
“Daryl Morey — who I like — he can say whatever he wants to. But there are consequences.” Hmm? Really? Consequences like an American company not defending its own employee’s speech from a tyrannical regime? It seems that Barkley has missed the point.
Yes, many American companies work with China, and that often means making concessions to the thuggish regime. And perhaps most of those companies have the luxury of obscurity when they deal with the devil (the hoops widget manufacturers jump through to access the Chinese market are the stuff of business pages, if they’re reported on at all.) The NBA doesn’t, and its response — and those of its most outspoken stars — to Chinese bullying has been spectacularly inept and craven (and public).
The other thing Barkley forgets is that Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, GSW player Stephen Curry, and NBA legend Lebron James are never at a loss for words when it comes to criticizing the U.S. and especially the Trump administration. But when China’s human rights abuses and its attempts to silence Morey’s speech, are at issue, they’re suddenly dispassionate judges, eager to see both sides and reluctant to judge.
It’s not about who does business with China, it’s about who has the courage of his convictions when things get rough. Kerr and James et al know they can say what they want about America and never lose a cent. They can call Donald Trump names and even tell the vice president to shut the hell up, and the government won’t and can’t lift a finger against them. Barkley couldn’t go to China and say that to Xi Jinping, though he’s welcome to try.