President Donald Trump criticized Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Wednesday for their responses in the wake of the NBA's ongoing controversy with China.
They were Trump's first public comments on the matter, which has put the league in the middle geopolitical firestorm. He spoke at a media briefing.
"I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy who was so scared to be even answering the question," said Trump. "And yet he'll talk about the United States very badly."
Trump continued: "I watched Popovich, sort of the same thing, but he didn't look quite as scared, actually. But they talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don't want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually. It'll be very interesting."
Trump was then asked about the Chinese government pressuring the NBA over Hong Kong.
"They have to work out their own situation," Trump said refering to the NBA. "But I watched the way that Kerr, Popovich and some of the others were pandering to China, and yet to our own country, they don't."
President Trump criticizes Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich — both vocal critics of Trump — when asked about China putting pressure on the NBA: "They talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don't want to say anything bad" https://t.co/rR2dKOelYD pic.twitter.com/am9hMQcGG3— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 9, 2019
On Tuesday, Popovich lauded NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his stance supporting freedom of speech amid the ongoing rift with China.
Speaking before the Spurs faced the Miami Heat in a preseason game, Popovich said he recognized that Silver is in a difficult situation following Chinese dismay over a tweet posted last week by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that showed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
But he is thrilled with how Silver - who issued a statement earlier in the day from Tokyo and then held a news conference there to further affirm how the NBA believes in freedom of speech as a core value - is holding firm to Morey's right to expression.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he supports the comments from NBA commish Adam Silver surrounding the controversy with the league and China. pic.twitter.com/kKadrF6Xwp— Will Manso (@WillMansoWPLG) October 8, 2019
"And it wasn't easy for him to say," Popovich said. "He said that in an environment fraught with possible economic peril. But he sided with the principles that we all hold dearly, or most of us did until the last three years. So I'm thrilled with what he said."
Popovich is one of the NBA's most outspoken coaches, never shy to offer opinion on political matters - he is a staunch opponent of President Trump - or social causes.
Kerr said he wanted to educate himself on the situation before speaking out.
Popovich compared the significance of Silver's remarks to two other moments that he finds significant from Silver's career - how the NBA banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling over racist comments, and how the league has been a leader in supporting the LGBTQ community.
"Adam is a very progressive leader," Popovich said. "We all remember how he handled the situation with the former owner of the Clippers, which made everybody proud because it was the right thing to do. A couple years ago - I can't remember, time goes by quickly, two, three, four years ago - I was walking the streets of New York City during the gay pride parade and I turned around and here comes a float and Adam's standing on the float with a big sign in support of LGBTQ and I felt great again, just like I did with the Clipper deal. And then we come out strongly for freedom of speech. I felt great again."