On Thursday night, Barkley harshly criticized Vice President Mike Pence — saying Pence "needs to shut the hell up" — after the vice president earlier in the day slammed the NBA for cowardice and hypocrisy regarding the Hong Kong-China controversy.
During a speech in Washington, Pence said he was disappointed that NBA players and executives didn’t speak out on behalf of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators, and seemed more interested in protecting their money-making opportunities in communist China.
Pence said the NBA acted like a “wholly owned subsidiary” of China’s “authoritarian regime” after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a Twitter message in support of Hong Kong’s people.
“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 also took aim at sports apparel company Nike, a longtime business partner of the NBA and its players.
“Nike promotes itself as a so-called 'social-justice champion,'” Pence said. “But when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.”
Pence’s speech was the Wilson Center’s inaugural Frederic V. Malek Public Service Leadership Lecture, and came as President Trump’s administration tries to negotiate a new trade deal with China.
The vice president also sounded off on previous U.S. administrations, which he claimed had tolerated unfair trade terms for the U.S. and looked the other way as China mistreated its citizens.
"The political establishment was not only silent in the faces of China's economic aggression and human rights abuses, but enabled them," Pence charged.
But during Thursday’s NBA pregame show on TNT, Barkley said Pence was guilty of hypocrisy on the subject of China.
“Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up, number one,” Barkley said to a panel of his TNT colleagues as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “All American companies are doing business in China. I thought the criticism of commissioner Silver and LeBron James was unfair.
Barkley added: “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,” Barkley continued. “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.”
"President Trump has been talking about and arguing with tariffs for China for the last two years. … All American companies do business in China. Period."
— Charles Barkley
Many NBA fans appear to take a different view than Barkley. Demonstrations in support of Hong Kong have taken place at NBA games in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angeles, and in Philadelphia a fan was ejected over a pro-Hong Kong sign.
During Thursday’s speech, Pence noted that the FBI has 1,000 active investigations underway regarding the theft of intellectual property, with the the majority involving China.
Last December, Pence said, the Justice Department announced it had broken up a hacking operation in which Chinese officials stole the names and data of 100,000 U.S. Navy personnel as well as ship maintenance information "with grave implications for our national security," Pence said.
At a separate cybersecurity event in Washington, the Justice Department's top national security official, John Demers, said any progress in U.S.-China trade talks would have no bearing on future prosecutions involving Chinese espionage or intellectual property theft. Only a change in behavior by the Chinese would affect those decisions, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.