Mike Pence says NBA is 'acting like a wholly owned subsidiary' of China

Guardian sport
<span>Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP</span>
Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

US vice-president Mike Pence accused the National Basketball Association of “acting like a wholly owned subsidiary” of China’s ruling Communist party for what he deemed the league’s failure to stand up for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong caused an international rift.

Related: How the NBA's rift with China laid bare the cost of free speech

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Pence additionally took aim at Nike for their role in placating China amid the fallout from Morey’s seven-word post, which has threatened to upset the multibillion-dollar relationship between the NBA and the world’s second largest economy.

“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 a speech Thursday at the Wilson Center in Washington criticizing China’s record on trade and human rights.

“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” he said.

Pence added: “Nike promotes itself as a so-called social justice champion, but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.

“Nike stores in China actually removed their Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves to join the Chinese government in protest against the Rockets general manager’s seven-word tweet: ‘Fight for Freedom, stand with Hong Kong.’”

It’s not the first time Pence has waded into sports for political ends.

The former Indiana congressman took part in a staged walkout of an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts in October 2017 while about a dozen players kneeled during the national anthem.

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