Since the election of President Trump, Gregg Popovich has frequently criticized him, often in unsparing language. On Monday, the Spurs coach blasted Trump as “a soulless coward,” following the president’s comments about his lack of public reaction to the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers who were on patrol in Niger.
At an impromptu news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump told reporters that he had written “personal letters” to the families of the soldiers, which he said had either “been sent” or were “going out tonight,” adding that they “were written during the weekend.” Trump said that he would “at some point during the period of time call the parents and the families,” claiming that while he had “done that traditionally,” he wanted “a little time to pass” to be able to “call when it’s appropriate.”
The president contrasted his approach to that of some of his predecessors, saying, “If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.” When he was subsequently asked how he could make that claim, Trump said he “was told” that Obama “didn’t often” make calls to the families of slain soldiers.
“President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know,” Trump said. “That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some presidents didn’t do anything. But I like, I like the combination of — I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”
The Nation’s Dave Zirin reported Monday that Popovich called him after hearing Trump’s comments. “I have never heard this man so frustrated, so fed up, and so tense with anger than today,” Zirin wrote of the 68-year-old coach.
“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,” Popovich told Zirin. “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, is so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.
“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.”
Popovich served in the U.S. Air Force before going on to one of the greatest coaching careers in history. A five-time NBA champion with San Antonio, he has added the title of head coach of the U.S. national team, taking over from Mike Krzyzewski, and will lead it into the 2020 Olympic Games.
Popovich has also emerged as arguably the foremost critic of Trump in an NBA that has seen in increase in social activism among its players in recent years. In addition, several other league figures have been outspoken in condemning statements or policies of the president, including fellow coaches in the Warriors’ Steve Kerr and the Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy.
Last month, amid Trump’s repeated criticisms of NFL players staging protests during the national anthem, Popovich described the United States as “an embarrassment in the world” and said, “We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall with [Trump’s] conduct, or we can decide that the institutions of our country are more important.”
In May, shortly after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, the coach told reporters, “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. It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. … It’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be.”
“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,” Popovich said Monday. “The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”
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