I don’t watch much basketball (my sport of choice is college football), but I’ve been sort of fascinated by the whole NBA-China controversy happening lately.
If you haven’t been following this story, it all started when Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted an image that said “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” in response to ongoing Hong Kong protests.
The backlash was swift and immediate. Morey deleted the tweet, but the damage was done. He was rebuked by the Rocket’s owner, and the NBA basically sided with communist China by censoring those who criticized the regime. (It’s all about money. The NBA is big in China, and the Rockets are one of the most popular teams, largely due to the success of their former player Yao Ming.) NBA superstars like Lebron James (who has a hug deal with Nike, which does tons of business in China) said Morey shouldn’t have spoken out because he wasn’t “educated on the situation at hand.”
Please, Lebron, educate us all on foreign affairs.
Anyway, Vice President Mike Pence scolded the NBA earlier this week for siding with China:
“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime,” Pence said. “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.”
NBA great Charles Barkley responded:
“Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up,” Barkley said on “Inside the NBA,” as reported by CNN. “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? I think it’s unfair for them to do all their business in China, and just because this thing happened, try to make the NBA and our players look bad. All American companies do business in China. Period.”
Barkley misses the point. People aren’t upset about transactions with China. Nobody has complained about the NBA’s relationship with China, where the league has played preseason games for years. It’s about the censoring of opposing voices, which is commonplace in China but goes against everything the United States and the First Amendment are supposed to stand for.
It’s also pretty hypocritical coming from Barkley, who’s basically made a career of free speech in his post-NBA days.