San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Sunday responded to criticism from President Donald Trump, praising NBA commissioner Adam Silver's handling of the ongoing China issue as compared to the president's relationship to a number of foreign leaders.
"[Silver] stood by our nation and its principles. That's pretty huge in these days," Popovich told reporters before the Spurs' preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans. "Sometimes, it's kind of Orwellian. You think we're living in a place where, 'Is this really happening?' But that comparison was pretty stark when you put our president up against those leaders when he's with them or talking to him and how he reacts compared to the way Adam Silver reacted. I was proud of him. It was great."
On Wednesday, Trump had criticized Popovich and the Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr -- two coaches who have critiqued the president a number of times during his administration. Trump was harsher toward Kerr but said Popovich also was weak in responding to questions about China.
"They talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don't want to say anything bad," Trump said. "I thought it was pretty sad, actually. It'll be very interesting."
Popovich was initially dismissive when asked about Trump's comments, saying "I'm too busy. I have things to do."
But Popovich then went on.
"All I did was make a comparison between Adam Silver's show of principle and courage in a tough situation, as opposed to how our president reacts when in the company of authoritarian figures, whether it's Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Russia or Turkey, whatever it is," Popovich said. "It comes off as really feckless, impotent, cowardly by comparison."
The NBA's relationship with China has been tenuous ever since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet Oct. 4 that showed support for protesters in Hong Kong.
Silver, speaking in Japan on Tuesday, said he and the league are "apologetic" over the reaction that followed Morey's tweet but noted that "we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression."