Friday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings saw nearly every person on the court take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. One of the few who didn’t came as a surprise for some.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, along with top assistant Becky Hammon, declined to kneel with Spurs players as the anthem played. Both coaches did wear the league’s “Black Lives Matter” shirts like everyone else.
Given Popovich’s well-known propensity for criticism of the very things his kneeling players were protesting, as well as his past support for athletes’ right to protest during the anthem, it wasn’t hard to envision Popovich taking a knee when NBA play resumed.
Of course, Popovich is also an Air Force veteran and could have different ideas about the meaning of the protest when it comes from him.
When asked about his choice after the game, the coach declined to explain why he stayed standing, calling it “a personal decision” and saying everyone has the freedom to do what they want.
Gregg Popovich on standing during anthem: "I prefer to keep that to myself. Everybody has to make a personal decision. The league has been great about that. Everybody has the freedom to react any way that they want. For whatever reasons that I have, I reacted the way I wanted to"— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) August 1, 2020
Spurs veteran DeMar DeRozan said after the game, a 129-120 Spurs win, that Spurs players supported their coaches’ decision to stand, noting that both have made it clear they support the fight for social justice.
DeMar DeRozan: “We have no doubt in (what Pop and Hammon believe). Pop speaks out. Becky’s on the front line. She stands for equality. ... There’s no need to vilify someone for standing.”— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) August 1, 2020
Popovich has long been one of the most progressive voices in sports, especially when it comes to his outspoken criticism of President Donald Trump.
Nearly every NBA player and coach has kneeled in bubble
As NBA play resumed four months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world, it was clear that the politics of racial injustice had changed for the league. Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more, several players made it clear that they wanted to use their platform to push for change.
That led to every person on the court — players, coaches, officials — taking a knee during the anthem before the first two games of the season on Thursday. Nearly every player at the next day’s game did the same.
The most notable holdout so far has been Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, who declined to both kneel and wear the “Black Lives Matter” shirt before the Disney World opener. Unlike Popovich, Isaac explained his decision after the game by saying he believed his faith — Isaac is an ordained minister — was the best way to defeat racism rather than the shirt and kneeling protest.
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