President Trump rips Warriors coach Steve Kerr over China-NBA response
President Donald Trump declined to criticize China’s handling of a free speech dispute with the NBA on Wednesday, instead opting to blast two basketball coaches who have spoken out against the president in the past.
“They have to work out their own situation,” Trump said of the escalating dispute between the league and China, where two exhibition games were in danger of being canceled because of the country’s anger over a tweet from a Houston Rockets executive who expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The issue touches on a familiar situation for U.S. businesses trying to prosper in China: working with a government that does not tolerate dissent. When asked about the situation, Trump instead called out Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, both of whom have been highly critical of Trump throughout his presidency.
“I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy who was so scared to be even answering the question,” Trump said, referring to Kerr declining to take a stance on an issue that could threaten the NBA’s business in China, where the Warriors are the most popular team. “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.”
Trump then targeted Popovich, who criticized Trump when asked about the dispute Tuesday night.
“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.”
Trump accused Kerr and Popovich of “pandering to China,” and suggested that they didn’t “respect” the United States. Popovich, a former member of the Air Force, was the head coach of the USA men’s basketball team this summer, when it played in the world championships in China. Kerr was his assistant.
“And yet to our own country, they don’t — it’s like they don’t respect it,” Trump told reporters in an event from the Roosevelt Room, following the signing of an executive order. “I said, ‘What a difference?’ Isn’t it sad?”
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was more critical of China during an interview with PBS NewsHour that aired Wednesday.
“I think American businesses have the right to make the decisions that they make, as long as they’re lawful,” Pompeo said. “They will have to make their own business decisions, but I think not only what we saw this week, but this has been going on for some time; I think American businesses are waking up to the risks that attend to their company.”
Pompeo continued: “It may seem that it makes profit in the short run, but the cost, the reputational cost of these companies, I think, will prove to be higher and higher as Beijing’s long arm reaches out to them and destroys their capacity for them.”
Representatives for the Warriors, the Spurs and the league did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump became the highest-profile politician to weigh in on an unusual international row that began last Friday, when the general manager of the Rockets, Daryl Morey, posted and quickly deleted an image on Twitter that carried a slogan used by Hong Kong protesters, right as the league was preparing to play two exhibition games there a week later. For several months, demonstrators in the region have accused the Communist government of attempting to limit civil liberties. Backlash from the mainland came quickly.