San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
To judge by superficials, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich appears to be someone who spends his weekends wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap while organizing like-minded people to patrol the border. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s the Air Force graduate with the close-cropped white hair who also happens to be, arguably, the most respected pro sports coach in the United States, with five NBA titles to his name.
Popovich has accomplished all of this in the red bastion of Texas. And yet this son of Serbian-Croatian immigrants is emerging as one of the most prominent and important voices against the hateful agenda of Donald Trump.
I first met Coach Pop in 2011 at a panel that I was doing with 1968 Olympian John Carlos and Cornel West. Pop showed up randomly, just another face in the crowd. I made a beeline toward him and asked why he was there. His answer: “I was in the Air Force in 1968 when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fist and it was one of the most electric moments of my life.”
When I proudly pointed out Cornel West, Popovich looked at me like I was an insufferable sideline reporter and said, “I know who Cornel West is. I don’t live under a rock.”
He then bought copies of The John Carlos Story, the memoir I co-authored with Carlos (with a foreword by West), for every member of the Spurs organization. That’s how our friendship began. But even I am surprised at how Popovich has proudly and unapologetically stepped forward to oppose the Trump agenda.
Soon after the election, at a press conference following a win by his team, Popovich unloaded on Trump for “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.”
Then Coach Pop invited me to interview him and West at an event in San Antonio in front of more than 300 high school students. He spoke openly to them about how they could resist the agenda of this administration.
“I think the most important thing is that you can’t do anything by yourself,” Popovich said. “You have to join together and be prepared, ready, and active.” He said all this even though the owners of the San Antonio Spurs, Peter and Julianna Holt, are big-time Trump backers. I suppose that, after five championships, no one has job security quite like Gregg Popovich.
I think the most important thing is that you can’t do anything by yourself. You have to join together and be prepared, ready, and active.
Popovich was inspired to speak again by the Women’s Marches on January 21 that drew more than three million people into the streets in cities across the nation and around the world. He called the marches “great” and answered a question he heard raised on TV: “What’s their message?”
“Well, their message is obvious,” Popovich said. “Our President comes in with the lowest [approval] rating of anybody who ever came into the office. And there’s a majority of people out there, since Hillary won the popular vote, that don’t buy his act. And I just wish that he was . . . mature enough to do something that really is inclusive, rather than just talking and saying, ‘I’m going to include everybody.’ He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it. But so far, we’ve got [to] a point where you really can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth. You really can’t.”
So here we have two men, roughly the same age. One has impeccable integrity and the other is a congenital liar, egomaniac, and bully. One is a basketball coach, the other the President. If only those roles could be reversed.