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Trump rips NBA, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich for 'pandering' to China

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/9/2019 Mark Medina, USA TODAY

U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters during an event to sign executive orders on "transparency in federal guidance and enforcement" in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 9, 2019.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst © Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters during an event to sign executive orders on "transparency in federal guidance and enforcement" in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst For once, President Donald Trump wishes the NBA would not just stick to sports.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have often criticized Trump for his divisive rhetoric. But they abstained from critiquing China amid its conflict with Hong Kong.

“I watched this guy Steve Kerr. He was like a little boy who was so scared to be answering the question,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ He didn’t know how to answer the question. Yet, he’ll talk about the United States very badly. I watched Popovich do sort of the same thing. But he didn’t look quite as scared, actually.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr had spoken to reporters in the Bay Area before Trump's comments. Warriors star Stephen Curry, however, heard about them before speaking. Curry could not help but smile. Trump had singled Curry out two years ago amid the Warriors' refusal to make the customary White House visit to celebrate the team's NBA championship. As Curry mused, "I gotta welcome Steve to the club."

"It’s weird just because I’d figure he would have other better things to do with his time," Curry said of Trump's criticism. "Those kind of conversations you hope are just productive. Whatever the issue or narrative is, hopefully the general and majority of the reaction is people figuring out a solution to what we’re talking about. Or having productive conversations instead of throwing words and 140 character tweets at people."

Neither Kerr nor Popovich actually looked scared when addressing an incident that has caused a strained business relationship between the NBA and China. But neither talked at length about the issue as they have about various racial and social issues in the United States.

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Kerr, whose father was assassinated as a diplomat in Lebanon in 1984 in what was considered an act of terrorism, has criticized the NRA in recent years following every mass shooting. Both Kerr and Popovich have also spoken out on social and racial issues in the United States.

As for the Hong Kong protests?

Kerr said he emailed his brother-in-law, whom Kerr said is a Chinese history professor, in hopes to learn more about the situation.

“What I’ve found is it’s easy to speak on issues that I’m passionate about and feel like I’m well versed on,” Kerr said. “What I found is that it makes sense to stick to topics that fall in that category. I keep my comments to those. It’s not difficult. I’m more trying to learn.”

Popovich praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has attempted to strike a balance regarding the situation. He apologized to China for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's pro-Hong Kong tweet, which offended China and its residents. Silver also defended Morey’s right to free speech.

“He’s been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous,” Popovich told reporters at the Spurs-Miami Heat preseason game Tuesday. “Compared to what we’ve had to live through the last three years, there’s a big difference gap there leadership-wise and courage-wise.”

That prompted Trump to paint Kerr and Popovich as hypocritical.

“They talked badly about the United States. But when they talk about China, they don’t want to say anything bad,” Trump said. “I thought it was pretty sad, actually, to see them pandering to China. It will be very interesting.”

The NBA has fielded criticism from both political parties for failing to condemn China's human-rights record. The NBA has hosted exhibition games in China in 2006, while the league's stars have increasingly landed endorsements there. 

So has Curry, who has visited China for the past six summers to promote his shoe brand with Under Armour. He downplayed that variable, insisting that he and other NBA players have not been as outspoken for a much simpler reason.

“This situation, there’s a huge weight and gravity to it. There’s going to need to be some things to be sorted out," Curry said. "But I just don’t know enough about Chinese history and how that’s influenced modern society today and that interaction to speak on it. That’s where we’re at. This is not going away. So we’ll come back to it.”

Contributing: David Jackson

Follow Mark Medina on Twitter @MarkG_Medina

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump rips NBA, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich for 'pandering' to China

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