San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is a winner. The Air Force veteran has been a vocal critic of the president since before he took office. His latest slam might be his most vicious yet.
“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”
Popovich wasn’t done.
“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets.
“We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”
When the future Hall of Fame coach talks, people listen.
Popovich’s winning resume speaks for itself. He enters his 22nd year as head coach of the Spurs, having won five NBA titles. His winning percentage ranks fourth all-time behind current Golden State head coach Steve Kerr (percentage is slightly skewed due to only coaching for three years), Phil Jackson and Billy Cunningham. If this season is like the last 20 years, he will move to fiftth, possibly fourth all-time in wins. The Spurs have yet to have a losing season with Pop as coach.
All that success and Popovich has never adhered to the model “stick to sports.” In an article published last October, Ben Cohen reports Spurs players have been pressed on random facts, world news, history and politics with questions such as, “Where is one in danger of being attacked by wombats?”
According to the article, Popovich cites a simple reason for the wide range of topics discussed in the Spurs locker room:
“I think it’s sad if a person’s whole self-image and self-worth is based in their job,” Popovich said. “Whether you’re a basketball player, a plumber, a doctor, a mailman or whatever you might be, why not try your best to live a more interesting life that includes other people, other cultures and different worlds?”
The last bit is what makes Popovich a danger to the world Trump and his administration is hellbent on creating. It’s also why Popovich has been such a staunch opponent.
The Spurs are known as one of the most global teams in the NBA. They traditionally field multiple foreign players per year. The league, as a whole, is the most globally loved domestic organization in the world. Moments like #ChinaKlay are possible because of the universally welcoming ideology the NBA represents.
Klay Thompson provocando unas risas en China 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/ltAbcEwZyf
— NBA ESPAÑA (@_NBAEsp_) June 25, 2017
The NFL, on the other hand, continues to step on its toes in trying to find a way to “deal” with the ongoing protests with its players. It’s year two and the message is as conflicted as it was when Colin Kaepernick first sat on the bench in August, 2016. Recently, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened to cut any player who joined a movement for racial equality and an end to police brutality. Popovich addressed this last September and his message rings as true today as it did then.
“My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, and what they feel strongly about. Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions, and I’m not going to tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B and C, they’re going to be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant.”
Popovich is the current administration’s kryptonite; a white, powerful individual with global ties universal respect both at home and abroad. When an NFL player stands out racial stereotypes engage the opposition. Those who wish to silence a protest can enflame an already divisive nation with a simple depiction of “them vs us.” There’s a reason people attack Steph Curry, Jemele Hill and Kaepernick, but have yet to speak out against Popovich. Someone who has continued to critique the president for over a year.
While NFL’s coaches continue to say my job is to coach football, Popovich says things like “We still have no clue of what being born white means.” White privilege is a topic that can be gasoline to any white person uncomfortable with discussions involving race. The mere idea that the color of your skin can give you an advantage is considered ridiculous by many who have no idea what it’s like to hurdle the obstacles many minorities face from education to opportunity. Despite facts to back up claims, there are those who refuse to believe it. That is until someone who looks like them and talks like them recites…facts.
This is why when Popovich says “Our country’s an embarrassment in the world” no one tells him to “go back home.” No one tells one of the most successful coaches in basketball history to leave the country. It also provides support to others who lack a certain pigmentation who feel the same way, to say something.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 25, 2017
Shouts to John Wall, who nails it. (h/t @CSNMA) pic.twitter.com/1rEv7zLegq
— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) September 25, 2017
A #POTUS whose name alone creates division and anger. Whose words inspire dissension and hatred can't possibly "Make America Great Again"
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) September 23, 2017
Popovich’s press conference antics are legendary. His quick, as-few-words-as-possible answers have become a nightmare and delight for all journalists who get roasted or get an engaging answer. To many at home, that repartee endears Popovich to us. It also makes what he is doing now even more powerful.
He is standing on a podium and leaving nothing to the imagination. He is clear in his distaste for this administration. He is an advocate for a better America. Pop willfully stands at the forefront. While everyone opposed to Kaepernick’s message rip at his character, they stand silent in the face of Pop.
The president has taken shot after shot at the NFL and for the most part no one in that league with a position of power has stood up to him.
Few will be silenced. Popovich will continue to lead, because that’s what he’s always done for the Spurs, coaching his team — to levels rarely seen — and engaging them off the court. Not because his whiteness affords him the ability, but because he believes it necessitates his continued dissent.