President Donald Trump, in his first public comments about the NBA’s relationship with China, criticized Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for their response to questions about the controversy.
Trump weighed in on the topic Wednesday afternoon, saying the NBA has to “work out their own situation” with China while he was critical of Kerr and Popovich, saying they “were pandering to China.”
Kerr, who has been publicly critical of Trump and vocal on several social issues in the United States, said Monday that he had no comment when asked about the fallout from Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet last week that showed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
Trump ripped Kerr two days later, saying that the three-time championship-winning coach “was like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question,” Trump said. “He couldn’t answer the question — he was shaking ‘Oh, oh, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.’
“He didn’t know how to answer the question, and yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”
Popovich also avoided directly discussing the specific issue regarding protests in Hong Kong, although he did praise NBA commissioner Adam Silver for his stance supporting free speech.
“I watched Popovich — sort of the same thing, but he didn’t look quite as scared actually,” Trump said. “But 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. It’ll be very interesting.”
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, while LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t go too deeply into specifics when asked his opinion.
“I watch the way that Kerr and Popovich and some of the others were pandering to China, and yet to our own country, it’s like they don’t respect it,” Trump said. “It’s like they don’t respect it. I said, ‘What a difference — isn’t it sad?’ It’s very sad. To me, it’s very sad.”
Silver, speaking in Japan on Tuesday, said he and the league are “apologetic” over the outcome and reaction that followed Morey’s tweet, but he noted that “we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”
An NBA Cares event in Shanghai involving the Los Angeles Lakers was canceled Wednesday, just hours before it was scheduled to begin.
The NBA would say only that calling off the event, which was supposed to benefit the Special Olympics, was not its decision.
The protests in Hong Kong were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China to face trial. Activists saw that as a threat to the legal rights that Hong Kong residents have under the current “one country, two systems” framework.