The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gregg Popovich praises Adam Silver for ‘courage’ in China, takes a dig at Trump

Gregg Popovich wasn't holding back on the NBA's problem in China. (Darren Abate/Associated Press)
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While other leagues, as well as NBA coaches and players, have watched in silence as the NBA tries to work its way out of a public relations debacle in China, one coach offered his opinion when asked about the situation.

Naturally, it was San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who has passionately criticized President Trump and spoken out about race, LGBTQ and gun control issues over the years. He didn’t hold back when reporters asked him about China before a preseason game Tuesday night. Although the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver initially bungled the response to Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protests of China’s policies, Silver has since reclaimed the moral high ground, saying that there are values “that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA, and that includes freedom of expression for our employees.”

“Adam is a very progressive leader. We all remember how he handled the situation with the former owner of the Clippers [Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the team over racist comments]. It made everybody proud because it was the right thing to do,” Popovich said (via “A couple of years ago, I was walking the streets in New York City during the gay pride parade. I turned around and here comes a float, and Adam is standing on a float with a big sign in support of LGBTQ. And I felt great again, just like I did with the Clipper deal.”

The sports arm of Chinese broadcaster CCTV countered that “any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech.” Silver told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday that he anticipated a financial fallout over the matter. “I do know there are consequences from freedom of speech; we will have to live with those consequences,” he said.

Popovich, who has said that Trump “brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose” and has called him a “soulless coward,” didn’t mention the president by name Tuesday night, but his meaning was clear as he spoke about how Silver seemed to put free speech ahead of the economic riches that China represents as an NBA market.

“[Silver] came out strongly for freedom of speech. I felt great again. He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference. A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise,” Popovich said. “It wasn’t easy for him to say. 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. I’m thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.”

He continued, “We’ve all talked about or heard about all the talking heads have and everybody for the last three years, ‘What kind of country do you want to be? Who are we? Where do we want to go?’ Adam said something that helps you understand what direction you need to go in, rather than the cowardice of not being able to respond to something of the murder of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi [a Washington Post contributing columnist]. There are many, many incidents like that where leadership and courage mean nothing. It’s all about personal aggrandizement. I was thrilled.”

Read more on the NBA from The Post:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says league supports free speech, must live with the consequences

An esports player spoke out in support of Hong Kong protests. He was suspended for a year.

Kevin Blackistone: While Adam Silver tries to straddle a line on China, the NBA misses an opportunity

The NBA is under fire from all directions over response to the Rockets-China matter

Sally Jenkins: Don’t be mad at the NBA. Hundreds of U.S. companies have sold out to China’s regime.

Chinese state TV cancels broadcasts of NBA preseason games and sponsors drop out in dispute over Hong Kong comments

Response to NBA executive’s Hong Kong tweet shows the rift between China and U.S.

‘We too love money more than freedom’: South Park creators issue mock apology over reported Chinese censorship

Gregg Popovich finds the opponent of his life in President Trump

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