The San Antonio Spurs scored a splashy win over the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road Saturday night on national television. It was the kind of victory that could give the Spurs a big, psychological edge should the two teams meet in June in the league finals. But it was San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich who scored the biggest win Saturday, a triumph for free speech, just before the game with the Cavaliers.
Popovich delivered a scathing critique of newly inaugurated President Donald Trump’s behavior, pre-and post-election to a gathering of reporters. After praising Saturday’s Women’s March, Popovich launched into a surgical strike on Trump’s conduct and demeanor. First, Popovich said we’ve reached the point in this country where we "really can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth."
He criticized the fact that Trump, in a speech before CIA employees Saturday, spent time talking about the size of the crowd that saw him become the nation’s 45th president, calling it "worrisome." Popovich said he hopes Trump does a great job, but added that respect for the office of president and for the person who holds the office are distinct and separate things. Added Popovich "It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist and make fun of handicapped people."
Popovich wasn’t done. He also criticized Trump’s staff, particularly chief of staff Reince Preibus, counselor Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer for obfuscating on the president’s behalf. The coach then added that Americans "have to be vigilant, to make sure that although we all hope he does good things for our country, we don’t get embarrassed by him and roll back liberties that have been worked for for so long in so many different areas."
For the record, Popovich, who served in the Air Force in the intelligence service and majored in Soviet studies, is no fly-by-night coach trying to make a name for himself. Now in his 21st season, he is the coach with the longest current tenure with the same team in all of American professional sports. Popovich is a three-time league Coach of the Year and has guided the Spurs to five NBA titles. He can be prickly with the media at times, a la New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, but no one has ever accused Popovich of cheating.
Indeed, his reputation is so far above reproach that Popovich has been selected to coach the United States men’s Olympic basketball team in Tokyo in 2020. Given that pending assignment and the fact that he coaches in San Antonio, a military town in Texas, one of the reddest states in the nation, Popovich’s blistering takedown of Trump seems unlikely.
But Popovich has never been afraid of doing the unordinary. After all, he was the coach who tapped Becky Hammon nearly three years ago to become the first female full-time assistant coach of a men’s team in U.S. pro sports history. It will be six months before Gregg Popovich can win his sixth NBA title, but it already appears he’s notched the biggest win in sports in 2017.
And that’s how I see it for this week.
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