The NBA has seen many of its biggest names reflect on the election of Donald Trump this week. Some, like Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, have responded with righteous anger over how Americans could spit in the face of so many vulnerable people and communities. Many more, like LeBron James, have attempted to offer a hopeful spin on a prospective presidency that doesn’t seem to have many positives for the black community. Others have openly wondered if NBA champions will even opt to visit the White House during a Trump presidency. While there are a variety of views on hand, nearly all of them have expressed some degree of sadness. Most of the differences come in the levels of anger and despondency.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is evidently somewhere in Van Gundy’s camp. The five-time champion and nearly universally respected coach spoke on Trump’s victory before Friday night’s home game against the Pistons, touching on many of Van Gundy’s topics from Wednesday and adding plenty more. Listen to the audio below — Popovich’s pregame talks are not recorded on video — and selections from the full transcript at mySA.com:
“Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenure and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.
“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump. […]
“The fact that people can just gloss that over, start talking about the transition team, and we’re all going to be kumbaya now and try to make the country good without talking about any of those things. And now we see that he’s already backing off of immigration and Obamacare and other things, so was it a big fake, which makes you feel it’s even more disgusting and cynical that somebody would use that to get the base that fired up. To get elected. And what gets lost in the process are African Americans, and Hispanics, and women, and the gay population, not to mention the eighth grade developmental stage exhibited by him when he made fun of the handicapped person. I mean, come on. That’s what a seventh grade, eighth grade bully does. And he was elected president of the United States. We would have scolded our kids. We would have had discussions until we were blue in the face trying to get them to understand these things. He is in charge of our country. That’s disgusting.”
A reporter then interrupted him.
“I’m not done,” Popovich said. “One could go on and on, we didn’t make this stuff up. He’s angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. That’s ironic to me. It makes no sense. So that’s my real fear, and that’s what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other group’s situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person. How disenfranchised they might feel. And for anyone in those groups that voted for him, it’s just beyond my comprehension how they ignore all of that. My final conclusion is, my big fear is — we are Rome.”
It’s possible to quibble with some of Popovich’s specifics, but the broad strokes sound pretty damn correct. Above all, he is making a plea not to normalize hateful concepts like misogyny and xenophobia in the name of acting as if the country is in the midst of a normal political process. These are issues that must be talked about and fought for in perpetuity.
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This commentary is far from Popovich’s first foray into political speech in an NBA context. He spoke about the silliness of the government shutdown three years ago and often offers a window into his beliefs in passing, including a reference to longtime D.C. staffer and pundit David Gergen in this piece. Yet Popovich took on a more specific and strident approach during training camp when asked about potential protests during the national anthem and appears to have no qualms continuing it now that Trump has been elected Leader of the Free World.
Disagree if you want. But Popovich has reached this conclusion by assessing this development’s impact on people’s tangible lives. That attention to real experience is part of what makes him a great basketball coach, but it’s noble for reasons far beyond what happens on the court and in the locker room.
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