Vice President Mike Pence slammed the NBA for "acting like a wholly owned subsidiary" of China's Communist Party on Thursday. His remarks have been the most critical from the Trump administration since the NBA-China standoff began earlier this month, over a team executive's tweet supporting Hong Kong's.
During a speech at The Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Pence took aim at the league for initially apologizing for the Houston Rockets general manager's Oct. 4 tweet that read: "Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong."
"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 the people of China," Pence said. "It's siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech."
"The NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime," he added. "A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights is not progressive, it is repressive."
Pence also took a swing at Nike, saying the sports apparel company prefers to check its "social conscience at the door" when it comes to Hong Kong.
"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," he said.
Several Chinese partners have cut ties with the NBA after the tweet. The nation's largest broadcaster refused to air preseason games taking place in the country, and the government called for
Despite the global backlash, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has backed Morey's right to freedom of speech and said he wouldn't be punished for the tweet. Morey has yet to make any further public comments since first addressing the controversy on Twitter.
The issue has polarized fan bases, politicians, and former and current NBA players. LeBron James and James Harden attempted to mitigate the controversy, while four-time NBA champion Shaquille O'Neal came to .
NBA legend Charles Barkley fired back at Pence's comments Thursday night. "Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up," he said. "All American companies are doing business in China."