Shaq might not do LeBron-scale business in China but he does plenty. Ernie Johnson makes a point of introducing him in the clip below by noting how often O’Neal travels there. There’s a 50-foot statue of Shaq in Beijing, for cripes sake.

So, as you watch, bear in mind that he’s leaving money on the table too by taking this position. Didn’t stop him from taking it.

His point is simple. We understand China’s values and look the other way at them, why can’t they do the same for us? If LeBron and Adam Silver can shrug off mass internment of religious minorities in concentration camps, the ChiCom government might reasonably be expected to shrug off one g-ddamned tweet by a team executive in support of Hong Kong. The reason this NBA/China standoff resonates is precisely because Americans on both sides of the aisle worry that Chinese economic power is pressuring American corporations like the NBA into following Chinese standards of free speech. That point seems to escape Johnson, who chides Morey for making trouble while there were NBA players in China (i.e. he turned them into rude guests), and Charles Barkley, who’s laser-focused on the bottom line. Barkley in particular can’t seem to see that the reason this has become a minor international incident isn’t because Morey made it one but because China did. They could have ignored his pro-Hong-Kong tweet. Instead they chose to seize on it and bludgeon the league with it to send the message that further dissent won’t be tolerated. All Chuck can do, seemingly, is cheer them on.

And that’s the other takeaway from this clusterfark. It’s not merely that the ChiComs are demanding silence from Americans about their political crises, it’s that they’ve coopted NBA personalities into taking the Chinese government’s position. Barkley places 100 percent of the blame for this incident on Morey, not an iota on Chinese totalitarianism, just as Beijing itself would. He also goes on and on about how poor LeBron James was unfairly forced to say something when James had nothing to do with Morey’s tweet. Remember what LeBron *did* say, though, once he finally chose to speak up — accusing Morey of not necessarily being “educated” about the politics of the Hong Kong situation. That’s a talking point straight from the Chinese government, aimed at marginalizing critics by painting them as somehow not seeing the nuance in a basic demand for human rights. If LeBron wanted to wimp out to protect his business interests by simply declining comment, he could have done that. Instead he took China’s side.

Which is what this is ultimately about. Shaq wants a live-and-let-live approach where China does what it wants and Americans say what they want and both sides live with it. China says no. Either Americans tacitly approve of their totalitarianism by maintaining total silence about it or they don’t do business with China. Barkley and James side with China. Simple as that.

Kudos to TNT for giving this topic some time on the season’s opening night, though. Meanwhile in China, the Lakers/Clippers game was aired — but the Raptors/Pelicans contest was not. The TV blackout of NBA games over there is still partially in effect, it seems. I guess airing the Lakers game was LeBron’s reward for choosing the right side.