The success of NBA San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich cannot be denied. In his professional career, the Popovich-led Spurs have won five championships. Popovich is also a military vet. Fluent in Russian and armed with an Air Force Academy degree in Soviet studies, his first post was as an intelligence officer assigned to a top-secret facility operating spy satellites. He also played and coached basketball for the Air Force during his five years of active duty, achieving the rank of captain.
So the man is not without experience and insight.
Here's the problem. On several occasions, Popovich has teed off on Donald Trump, the first condemnation taking place just days after Trump's election: "It's still early and I'm still sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and I live in that country where half the country ignored all that to elect someone. That's the scariest part of the whole thing to me. ... 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 that. And so, my final conclusion is — my big fear is — we are Rome."
That was right after the election. How does Popovich feel now? He recently slammed Trump again:
"Usually things happen in the world and you go to work and you have your family and your friends and you do what you do. To this day, I feel like there's a cloud, a pall over the whole country, in a paranoid, surreal sort of way. It's got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election; it has to do with the way one individual conducts himself, and that's embarrassing. It's dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. For this individual, he's in a game show. Everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people or our country. Every time he talks about those things, it's a ruse. Disingenuous, cynical."
Imagine what would happen to the career of a coach who said the same thing about, say, President Barack Obama. Couldn't a coach argue that Obama's Iran deal gives the hateful ayatollahs a march toward the acquisition of a nuclear bomb? Couldn't a coach argue that Obama's insistence on releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay means that a large number of the so-called "worst of the worst" will return to the battlefield, only to kill more Americans or American allies? Couldn't a coach in good faith believe that Obama's failure to use the term "radical Islam" emboldens our enemies and lulls us into a false sense of complacency?
Couldn't a coach argue that Obama, by invoking Ferguson in a United Nations speech and by saying "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," exacerbated racial tensions in America? As for Trump, it should be noted that he got a greater percentage of the black vote and Hispanic vote then did Mitt Romney in 2012, while getting a smaller percentage of the white vote.
Can you imagine the shelf life of any coach who, for example, pointed out that President Obama presided over the worst economic recovery since 1949 and made the case that Obama's tax, spend and regulate policies harmed the economy?
Popovich is not the only publicly anti-Trump coach in the league. Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, whose father was actually assassinated by Islamic terrorists, criticized President Trump's proposed travel restrictions in January: "I would just say that as someone whose family member was a victim of terrorism ... if we're trying to combat terrorism by banishing people from coming to this country, by really going against the principles of what our country is about and creating fear, it's the wrong way of going about it."
The coach of NBA's Detroit Pistons, Stan Van Gundy, also slammed Trump after his November victory: "I don't think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic and ethnic-centric."
The NBA is a private entity, and they could pass a rule banning coaches from making political statements during interviews. The right to make a political statement, of course, does not shield the speaker from the backlash that comes with exercising it.
How much longer will Texas NBA fans tolerate a Trump-bashing coach in a state the President carried by 9 percentage points?