Charles Barkley's free speech hypocrisy

Former NBA basketball player Charles Barkley said Thursday that Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSchiff asks Pence to declassify more material from official's testimony US Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy switches allegiance, joins Great Britain's team Pelosi to Democrats: 'Are you ready?' MORE "needs to shut the hell up" after Pence slammed the NBA for kowtowing to China and failing to stand up for free speech. 

Barkley’s political commentary comes after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in a benign seven-word tweet: “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”

China's communist government didn't like that very much, however, and has since pulled Rockets' merchandise off its shelves and some NBA games off of state TV. Morey's tweet also prompted many Chinese corporations to end their sponsorships with the league. 

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The NBA, instead of standing up for free speech, initially called Morey's comment “regrettable” in an effort to contain the economic damage. 

Cue Barkley who spoke out during an NBA pregame show on TNT, a time when many fans were likely watching to escape the non-stop drumbeat of politics that dominates our news cycle.

“First of all, Vice President Pence needs to shut the hell up,” Barkley said “All American companies are doing business in China.”

“I don’t understand why these holier than thou politicians — if they’re so worried about China, then why don’t they stop all transactions with China?” Sir Charles added. 

Barkley was responding to Pence's tough comments on Thursday, when the former Indiana governor said it is "un-American” for American companies to “embrace censorship.”

“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 said.

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Barkley is telling the vice president to do the political version of “shut up and dribble.” It's never a good look when a prominent American sides with a communist country over the U.S. But that's the team Barkley plays on now, to the point he might have to change his name to Comrade Charles.  

Know this: Barkley has made himself into a huge star in his post-basketball career doing exactly what Mike Pence did yesterday — exercising his right to free speech. 

But now Charles wants Pence and presumably all Americans to keep their collective mouths shut when it comes to criticizing China, the NBA and specifically the way the league has handled this entire sordid situation in an effort to protect its billion-plus-dollar investment in the country. 

Of course the 11-time all-star and the league had no problem injecting themselves into a dicey situation regarding the North Carolina bathroom bill controversy in 2016. The law mandated that people use restrooms based on their legal gender on their birth certificate. 

The NBA quickly took a side in the debate in an effort to show how woke it was and pulled its All-Star game out of Charlotte as a result, thereby punishing the state economically.

“It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves,” Barkley said in his opposition to the bathroom bill three years ago. 

In a related story, an estimated one million Muslim Uighurs are detained in Chinese concentration camps, which likely don't have much in the way of acceptable bathroom facilities. Not a peep out of Barkley on standing up for people who can't stand up for themselves on that one. 

Fact is, many in our media don't care about China either and that's shown through their bias of omission.

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CNN and the New York Times recently sponsored a three-hour-plus Democratic presidential debate that contained dozens of questions but not a single one on what is one of the most important foreign policy issues facing this country — China and its myriad attempts to silence American companies as outlined above. 

Perhaps neither outlet considered the topic sexy or sizzling enough when compared to hearing about the friendship between Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush, a topic which ate up nearly 20 minutes at the end of the debate.

“If you are willing to abandon your principles for convenience, or social acceptability, they are not your principles, they are your costume,” the old anonymous quote goes. 

Charles Barkley was a great basketball player. He's also a great commentator — just not a very principled one.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow him on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.