The three-sided controversy among the NBA, the Chinese government and the executive branch of the U.S. government took a couple more turns Thursday.
Vice President Mike Pence went first. He claimed in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington that the league, its stars and apparel giant Nike sided with the communist Chinese regime by distancing themselves from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's Oct. 4 tweet in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong and not condemning the Chinese government's retaliation for the tweet.
"(S)ome 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 the people of China," Pence said. "In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime.
"A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights isn't progressive; it is repressive. . . . When American corporations, professional sports (and) 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."
Silver, who was in San Francisco for the first regular-season game at the Chase Center, the Warriors' new arena, was asked by TNT to respond to Pence's comments.
"My response is, as I've said, we've adhered to our core values from the first moment, to the extent that there was any doubt about that. We enforced that those are core values, and I'll say once again that we're going to double down on engaging with the people of China and India and throughout Africa, around the world, regardless of their governments," Silver told Ernie Johnson in an interview on TNT's "Inside the NBA."
"Certainly if we get to a point where the U.S. government tells us we shouldn't be doing business in certain territories or countries, (then) we won't," Silver added.
Silver also said that the league "for decades has been on the ground in China, spreading the game, teaching the values of this game, and again, I think they're core American values and we've never wavered."
There was just enough of a pause from Silver for panelist Charles Barkley to give his take.
"First of all, Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up, No. 1," Barkley said. "All American companies are doing business in China. I thought the criticism of commissioner Silver and LeBron James was unfair. Listen, Daryl Morey, who I like . . . he can say whatever he wants to, but there are consequences.
"But I don't understand why these holier-than-thou politicians, if they . . . want to worry about China, why don't they stop all transactions with China? President (Donald) Trump has been talking about and been arguing with tariffs for China for the last two years. I think it's unfair for them to do all their business in China and just because this thing happened, are trying to make the NBA and our players look bad. All American companies do business in China, period."
Trump has criticized Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for not criticizing China the same way they have spoken out about social justice issues in the U.S. (Trump ripped Kerr a second time.) James, who has also spoken passionately about social issues, took heat for saying Morey "wasn't educated on the situation at hand." James' Lakers played two exhibitions with the Nets in China just days after Morey's tweet.
Before TNT played its clip of Pence, Silver defended the league's initial statement on Morey's tweet. The text included the word "regrettable"; people took the league's language as a sign it was choosing its business relationship with China over human rights and Morey's free-speech rights.
"The league's initial statement . . . was that, while we regretted upsetting our fans in China, we fully supported freedom of expression by members of the NBA family. I feel that initial statement was twisted to be read as an apology for having said the specific content of that tweet," Silver told Johnson. "And that's not what we said. We're a U.S. company. We're a platform for freedom of expression. I don't think it's inconsistent at the same time to be respectful of the countries that we do business in and the countries that we play in."
Silver attempted to clarify the league's response two days later with his own, stronger support for Morey's tweet.
Outside of that triangle, there is also the issue of spectators in NBA arenas continuing to speak out about China and Hong Kong. Attendees of the Rockets' home game vs. the Bucks at the Toyota Center on Thursday displayed these signs during an early timeout:
— Jerome Solomon (@JeromeSolomon) October 25, 2019
There were similar demonstrations inside Verizon Center in Washington and Barclays Center in Brooklyn during the preseason. The Nets are owned by Taiwanese tech billionaire Joseph Tsai, who has expressed his views on why China and its people were offended by Morey's tweet.