San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich fired back at President Trump’s criticism on Sunday over his response to the NBA’s PR crisis in China, and he defended league commissioner Adam Silver’s handling of the situation.
"[Silver] stood by our nation and its principles. That's pretty huge in these days," Popovich said, according to ESPN. "Sometimes, it's kind of Orwellian. You think we're living in a place where, 'Is this really happening?' But that comparison was pretty stark when you put our president up against those leaders when he's with them or talking to him and how he reacts compared to the way Adam Silver reacted. I was proud of him. It was great."
The NBA’s lucrative business efforts in China came under pressure earlier this month after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message in support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Nearly all of the NBA’s Chinese sponsors suspended their business ties with the league after Silver’s statement in support of Morey’s right to freedom of expression, while state-owned Chinese television pulled NBA games off the air.
Asked about the NBA’s issues in China, Trump ripped Popovich and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr for declining to directly address the situation. Popovich and Kerr are among the NBA’s outspoken voices on social justice issues, and both have been critical of the Trump administration.
“They talk badly about the United States but when it talks about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad actually,” Trump told reporters last week.
Trump said Kerr “was so scared to even be answering the question” about China, while Popovich “didn’t look quite as scared.”
In response, Popovich said that Silver’s leadership during the NBA’s China crisis stood in contrast to Trump’s handling of international issues.
"All I did was make a comparison between Adam Silver's show of principle and courage in a tough situation, as opposed to how our president reacts when in the company of authoritarian figures, whether it's Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Russia or Turkey, whatever it is," Popovich said. "It comes off as really feckless, impotent, cowardly by comparison."
The NBA’s business in China is worth $4 billion, according to Forbes.