President Trump weighed in for the first time Wednesday on the ongoing NBA-China debacle by publicly shaming two high-profile coaches for “pandering to China.”
Championship-winning coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, said Trump, refuse to voice criticism of Communist China’s oppressive policies but seem to have no such hesitations about talking “very badly” about the U.S.
The NBA’s China mess began when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong against China’s attempts to erode the autonomy of the region and the civil rights of citizens. In response, the Chinese government and the Chinese Basketball Association denounced the GM and threatened to cut ties with the Rockets. The NBA quickly took steps to appease the communist regime, apologizing for having “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” while Morey deleted the tweet and apologized for expressing solidarity with pro-democracy protesters.
Asked about the controversy on Monday, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kurr, who hasn’t been shy in the past about expressing his political views, refused to offer an opinion, drawing widespread criticism.
Steve Kerr has no comment on NBA’s China issues. He comments on every Trump tweet and can’t support democracy in China? What a complete and total coward. pic.twitter.com/Fr4FJIaOW0
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 8, 2019
Popovich has likewise refused to give a direct comment on the issue, only praising NBA commissioner Adam Silver for supposedly supporting free speech because, after saying the league was “apologetic” about the situation, Silver said “we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”
The commissioner “came out strongly for freedom of speech,” Popovich said Tuesday, despite Silver’s initial pandering and belated defense of free expression. The San Antonio Spur’s coach then turned the moment into an opportunity to once again bash Trump.
“[Silver has] been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous,” he said. “Then you compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference. A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise. It wasn’t easy for him to say. 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. I’m thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.”
Trump, who’s been in a long-running public feud with Kerr and Popovich, addressed the controversy for the first time Wednesday.
Asked if the Chinese are “wrong to be putting pressure on the NBA,” Trump said, “Well the NBA’s a different thing. I watch this guy Steve Kerr and he was like a little boy, he was so scared to be answering the question. He wouldn’t even 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,” Trump added. As for Popovich, Trump said, “sort of the same thing, but he didn’t look quite as scared actually.”
Overall, he said, “they talk badly about the United States, but when [they talk] about China, they don’t want to say anything bad.”
“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. It’s like they don’t respect it,” Trump concluded. “I said, ‘What a difference — isn’t it sad?’ It’s very sad. To me, it’s very sad.”
President Trump criticizes Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich — both vocal critics of Trump — when asked about China putting pressure on the NBA: "They talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don't want to say anything bad" https://t.co/rR2dKOelYD pic.twitter.com/am9hMQcGG3
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 9, 2019
One of the more outspoken stars of Kerr’s team, Stephen Curry, has likewise demurred to give a substantive answer when asked about the Hong Kong protests. While admitting that the NBA has been “really outspoken” about important issues, Curry said he just doesn’t “know that history well enough to kind of speak on it or to form an opinion yet, so that’s kind of where I’m at with the situation.”
Steph Curry: “This situation, there’s a huge weight and gravity to it. There’s going to need to be some things to be sorted out. But I just don’t know enough about Chinese history and how that’s influenced modern society…This is not going away. So we’ll come back to it.” pic.twitter.com/6h6ZGWHQtq
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 9, 2019
As reported by ESPN (which has come under criticism for its own apparent pandering to China), when Curry was asked about Trump calling out his coach Wednesday, Curry said, “At this point, I don’t know how Coach reacts — or anybody else who gets called out like that — so you just keep doing what you’re doing for the most part.”