Vice President Mike Pence blasted the NBA for acting like a “wholly owned subsidiary” of China during a news conference Thursday, further lambasting the league for its reaction to a general manager’s tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Though he didn’t specifically name players such as Steph Curry or LeBron James or coaches such as Steve Kerr or Greg Popovich, Pence called out those who chose not to speak up, expressed a pro-China view or used the opportunity to demean the U.S. in regards to the demonstrators in Hong Kong who’ve been protesting regarding a host of political and human rights issues.
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“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’s comments came as he was discussing the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, which has coincided with the continuing fallout after the tweet sent from the personal account of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey earlier this month.
Morey, ahead of his own team’s preseason series in Japan, sent a tweet that read: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” The league, which has a huge Chinese fanbase and was on the eve of a preseason trip to China, felt the immediate backlash. Morey issued subsequent tweets to try and stop the bleeding while Rockets star James Harden apologized for the tweet.
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But to no avail.
China began to crackdown on the NBA almost immediately as Chinese sportswear brands either suspended or severed ties with the Rockets. The Communist government also blacked out broadcasts of the league’s preseason games in the country and canceled NBA Cares events and media availabilities ahead of the exhibition games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood in support of Morey’s right to free speech but said he regretted the outcome. And while players remained silent while on mainland China, the league’s most vocal critics of President Trump, his administration and societal issues also mostly chose to stay quiet, opting to either “learn more” about the situation — or take more shots at the White House.
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As the Lakers returned home, James took the lead on the matter and said Morey was “misinformed” about Hong Kong and later doubled down on the controversial pronouncement and said he wasn’t going to talk about the matter anymore because he was too focused on the problems in the U.S.
“I’m not here to judge how the league handled the situation,” James said last week. “I just think that, when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen. We all see what that did, not only did for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well. Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people. I think that’s just a prime example of that.”
The next day he lamented that “we’re not all politicians.”
“I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well. When things come up, there’s multiple things that we haven’t talked about that have happened in our own country that we don’t bring up. There’s things that happen in my own community in trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college. That’s been my main concern the last couple of years with my school,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Silver said last week that the Chinese government urged him to remove Morey from his position as the team’s general manager and boasted that he resisted the request — another statement which China noticed.
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While the Chinese government denied ever making the request, state media vowed “retribution” for Silver’s alleged lies. State TV blacked out some of the NBA’s regular-season games and the country’s top streaming company, Tencent, only showed the Lakers’ first game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Fox News’ John Roberts contributed to this report.