Spurs’ Popovich talks NBA restart, racial injustice: ‘We have to get to the reparations discussion’

Popovich says NBA restart is important to keep momentum going in regards to combating social injustice

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich points to his bench during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) (Matt Slocum, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich discussed a myriad of topics, from race to social injustice to reparations, on Saturday afternoon during his first media session from the Spurs hotel in Orlando, Fla.

The Spurs are part of the 22 teams that will participate in the resumption of the NBA season in late July. They are scheduled to practice for the first time as a team on Saturday evening.

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Popovich said this was an important time for the NBA and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to examine how the virus has changed the course of people’s lives on and off the court.

“It’s a seminal moment in the sense that we have an opportunity to do something transformative if we have the courage. In this particular situation, talking about racism, it’s been talked about many times over centuries and this is where we are,” Popovich said.

He believes the NBA can use this opportunity to put race and social injustice at the forefront of a national discussion.

“So the league, players, coaches, staff, everybody is very committed to keeping it up front in everybody’s consciousness. Even though everybody’s excited to play, this is a great opportunity to make sure that we maintain the momentum,” Popovich said.

When asked about any health concerns he had traveling to Florida or participating in the league’s restart, the 71-year-old Popovich said he felt comfortable with the NBA’s “bubble” set up.

“From an intellectual point of view and a medical point of view, I would have to say I am safer here,” Popovich said. “If this bubble works, I’m safer here than I would be in Texas for sure as you see what’s going on there. Since the decision was made to do this with all the precautions, what a great opportunity to make race an upfront, most important activity that happens on a social level while we’re here.”

One of the Spurs players leading the charge for changes to systemic racism has been Patty Mills. The Spurs stalwart guard announced earlier in the week he would donate more than $1 million, the salary he will receive in Orlando, to Black Lives Matter initiatives.

Related: Spurs’ Patty Mills donating $1 million to fight racism

“Patty is, without doubt, the spiritual leader of our team,” Popovich said. “He embodies empathy, awareness, the ability to be actionable after he speaks about things. He’s a very special human being.”

The Spurs head coach said multiple levels of action need to be taken, whether it be police reform or education initiatives, to create societal change and close the gap on inequities that have existed for generations.

“The virus has made it so obvious, how unfair, how cruel the system has been. You can’t go on and enjoy your life if you don’t understand what has happened to so many,” Popovich said.

Popovich wrapped up the media session by saying, “we have to get to the reparations discussion.”

He referenced a recent New York Times article by Nikole Hannah Jones that he said was a template for the public to understand how we ended up in this political and racial climate.

“None of us were educated about what Reconstruction really meant. We all learned that President Lincoln freed the slaves, he’s a hero and that was it. There was nothing else,” Popovich said.

“There are millions of white Americans who still live by all these myths and have no idea about what actually happened in reconstruction, and what all the Jim Crow laws meant. And I’m sure even a lot of young black people have never had,” Popovich said. “It’s a template for at least understanding where we are, why we are and how we have to get all the way to the reparations discussion and not just wait for legislation and laws.”

About the Author:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.