MIAMI — Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s longest-tenured coach, lauded NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday for his stance supporting freedom of speech amid the ongoing rift with China.
Popovich, speaking before his San Antonio Spurs faced the Miami Heat in a preseason game, said he recognized that Silver is in a difficult situation following the Chinese dismay over a tweet posted last week by Houston general manager Daryl Morey that showed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
But he is thrilled with how Silver – who issued a statement earlier in the day from Tokyo and then held a news conference there to further affirm how the NBA believes in freedom of speech as a core value – is holding firm to Morey’s right to expression.
“And it wasn’t easy for him to say,” Popovich said. “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. So I’m thrilled with what he said.”
Popovich is one of the NBA’s most outspoken coaches, never shy to offer opinion on political matters – he is a staunch opponent of President Donald Trump – or social causes. Many NBA coaches have remained largely mum on the current situation with China. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni refused to answer questions on the topic after his team’s game in Tokyo on Tuesday, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said he wanted to educate himself on the situation before speaking out, and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t go too deeply into specifics when asked his opinion.
“That’s what this country is about: freedom of speech,” Rivers told reporters at Clippers practice Tuesday. “And we should always have freedom of speech. But … freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.”
Other coaches have said they are simply too busy getting ready for the season to fully dive into the topic.
“Training camp’s a pretty immersive time for us to get into game film and training, etc.,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “I have a lot of faith in the leadership of the NBA that they know what they’re doing to take care of these matters.”
But Popovich spoke at length about Silver’s remarks. He compared their significance to two other moments that he finds significant from Silver’s career – how the NBA banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling over racist comments, and how the league has been a leader in supporting the LGBTQ community.
“Adam is a very progressive leader,” Popovich said. “We all remember how he handled the situation with the former owner of the Clippers, which made everybody proud because it was the right thing to do. A couple years ago – I can’t remember, time goes by quickly, two, three, four years ago – I was walking the streets of New York City during the Gay Pride parade and I turned around and here comes a float and Adam’s standing on the float with a big sign in support of LGBTQ and I felt great again, just like I did with the Clipper deal.
“And then we come out strongly for freedom of speech. I felt great again.”