Donald Trump criticizes Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich for responses to NBA-China controversy

Sporting News

President Donald Trump addressed the growing rift between the NBA and China during a White House press event Wednesday, taking aim at Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for their stances on the issue.

When asked if it was wrong for Chinese leadership to be placing pressure on the NBA, Trump quickly turned his focus to Kerr and Popovich.

"I watch this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy," Trump said. "He was so scared to be even answering the question. He couldn't answer the question. He was shaking. '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. I watched Popovich, sort of the same thing, but he didn't look quite as scared, actually.

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"But they talk badly about the United States, but when they talk about China, they don't want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually. It'll be very interesting."

MORE: Explaining every angle of the NBA-China controversy

Kerr previously said he didn't want to comment before he learned more about the subject.

"It's more I'm just trying to learn," Kerr said. "My brother-in-law is actually a Chinese history professor. I emailed him today to tell me what I should be learning about all this and what's happening. So, I'm trying to learn just like everybody else is."

Popovich was more direct on the matter, praising NBA commissioner Adam Silver for being "very courageous" because Silver's recent public statement sided with "the principles that we all hold dearly, or most of us did until the last three years."

Trump declined to answer the intial question about whether China should be pressuring the NBA. On a June phone call, Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States would remain quiet on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as trade negotiations continued between the U.S. and China, according to a CNN report.

The ongoing battle between the NBA and China began on Friday when Rockets general manager Darly Morey sent out a since-deleted tweet with the slogan, "Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong." The social media post pushed the NBA into the middle of a heated debate over civil rights and extradition laws.

Morey's post and Silver's statement — which seeked to clarify an original NBA statement that was roundly criticized by U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle for choosing profits over human rights — angered the league's partners in China. The Chinese Basketball Association has ceased all cooperation with the Rockets, and CCTV and streaming platform Tencent have temporarily suspended broadcasts of NBA games.

Mutliple NBA Cares events scheduled to take place in China have been canceled, and it is unclear whether Thursday morning's preseason game between the Lakers and Nets (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will still be played in Shanghai.

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