“Usually, things happen in the world and you go to work and you’ve got your family and you’ve got your friend and you do what you do, but to this day I feel like there’s a cloud, a pall, over the whole country, in a paranoid surreal sort of way that’s got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election,” Popovich said before Game 1 of the Spurs’ Western Conference finals series with the Golden State Warriors.
Popovich isn’t just any coach spouting off. An Air Force Academy graduate with a degree in Soviet Studies, he was an active-duty intelligence officer in Eastern Europe after graduating in 1970.
“It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. It’s embarrassing. It’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be,” he said. “But for this individual, he’s at a game show and everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people or our country. When he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s disingenuous, cynical and fake.”
Popovich, like Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, has not been shy about the state of American politics. It’s different, though, with Popovich, who has five NBA championships and is replacing Mike Krzyzewski as coach of the U.S. national team. Popovich, at 68, is a cerebral coach who never holds back. As The Post’s Kent Babb wrote, he is “more than just a high-profile sports figure with a megaphone” and “has revealed the inner workings of a curious, nuanced mind with a series of opinions noteworthy for their thoughtfulness.” And if they make him a target for conservatives, so be it.
“I’d just feel better,” Popovich told reporters the day after Trump’s inauguration, “if someone was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age. It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t do us any good.
“I hope he does a great job. But there’s a difference between respecting the office and the person who occupies it. That respect has to be earned. 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 clearly feels that his power and position enable him to speak for others. “Sometimes when life moves along,” he told reporters in mid-February, “you’re presented with situations where you find it necessary to speak because so many people either seem to be afraid to or, more sinister, are unwilling to face things and let things go and worry about their own situations.”
On Sunday, he clearly felt compelled to speak up again. It’s never that simple with Popovich, though. Voicing his opinion also allowed him to take some of the attention off his team, a rare underdog against the Warriors. When his political comments quieted the room full of sports reporters Sunday, he departed with a quip.
“Well, with that, have a nice day,” he said. “Enjoy the game. Somebody’s going to win. Somebody’s going to lose. I just hope somebody doesn’t get their butt kicked.”