Published 11:09 PM EDT Oct 8, 2019
While some NBA coaches choose to stay silent on the NBA-China issue, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — one never afraid to voice his opinion on political issues — gave his unwavering support to NBA commissioner Adam Silver amid the escalating rift between the NBA and China.
“He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous,” Popovich told reporters at the Spurs-Miami Heat preseason game Tuesday. “Compared to what we’ve had to live through the last three years, there’s a big difference gap there leadership-wise and courage-wise.”
The NBA is facing backlash from China over a tweet sent by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of protesters in Hong Kong and over comments made by Silver in support of Morey, free speech and NBA values.
“The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues,” Silver said in a statement on Tuesday. “We simply could not operate that way.”
China responded by saying it won’t televise two preseason games this week in China between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets on state-run CCTV, and multiple Chinese companies have suspended business relationships with the league.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t comment on the NBA-China issue, saying they didn’t know enough about the topic.
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Popovich also took the opportunity to compare Silver’s words to President Trump, without mentioning Trump by name.
“It wasn’t easy for him to say,” Popovich said. “He said that in an environment that is fraught with possible economic peril. He sides with the principles that we all hold dearly — or most of us did until the last three years — so I’m thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.
“We’ve heard about all the questions the talking heads have for the last three years: What kind of country do we want to be? Who are we? Where do we want to go? That sort of thing. 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 like the murder of Mr. (Jamal) Khashoggi. There are many, many incidents like that where leadership and courage mean nothing (and) it’s all about personal aggrandizement.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.