A rain-soaked Monday morning did little to dampen the spirit at Spurs media day, where after the most emotional off-season in franchise history, optimism abounded. Amidst the colorful green screens and camera flashes, Pau Gasol was introduced, Manu Ginobili smiled, and Gregg Popovich got real. Addressing assembled reporters, Coach Pop offered his thoughts on the recent police shootings that have plagued the country.
“Race is the elephant in the room in our country and the social situation that we’ve all experienced is absolutely disgusting in a lot of ways,” said Popovich. "What’s really interesting is the people that jump right away to say one is attacking the police or the people that jump on the other side. It’s a question where understanding and empathy has to trump, no pun intended, any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature. It’s a topic that can’t just be swung at. People have to be very accurate and direct in what they say and do.”
Near the start of last season, Coach Popovich invited civil rights icon John Carlos to San Antonio to connect with the Spurs, reminding his players that “the world is bigger than basketball.” Carlos famously joined Tommie Smith in protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, raising the black power fist in the air with this his fellow sprinter. When asked about the current generation of athletes who have followed San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protest, Pop referenced Martin Luther King Jr.
“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and I respect their courage for what they’ve done,” said Popovich. “The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. King getting large groups of people together and boycotting buses or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing, with Kaepernick and others, is to keep it in the conversation.”
Heading into the new season, Cleveland Cavaliers swingman Iman Shumpert and Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo have already acknowledged that national anthem protests are on the way in the NBA. Players in the WNBA have been increasingly vocal, and over the weekend, members of the New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury locked arms in protest prior to their playoff game. While no Spurs have indicated that they will take a knee during the anthem this upcoming season, Popovich seemingly offered his support.
“My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, what they feel strongly about," he told reporters. "Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions. I’m not gonna tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B, and C, they’re gonna be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant.”