As part of the NBA’s ongoing awareness campaign, 72-year-old San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has received the COVID-19 vaccine. Video of a masked Popovich receiving the vaccine is featured in a public-service announcement scheduled to air during the league’s Thursday night doubleheader on TNT.
Thursday marks Popovich’s 72nd birthday. He is the oldest active head coach in the NBA and therefore at an exponentially greater risk than his players of hospitalization or death were he to contract coronavirus.
“It will keep me safe, keep my family safe and keep other people safe,” Popovich says in the 30-second spot. “Wearing masks is important, and to get the vaccine does give you an added level of assurance.”
Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey, Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy are all in their early 60s. Half the league’s head coaches are 50 years of age or older, and NBA benches are also filled with veteran assistant coaches.
Earlier this month, San Antonio forward Drew Eubanks, assistant coach Becky Hammon and another staffer entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols for COVID-19 and contract tracing. They returned last week, when more than half the Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans were potentially exposed to the virus, leading to the cancelation of their game on Monday. The Spurs returned to beat the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
“Science-wise, it’s a no brainer,” says Popovich, directing viewers to the CDC.gov website for further details on the vaccine. “It’s the right thing to do so we can all get on track again. Let’s do this together.”
The video comes 10 days after the NBA’s first PSA featuring 73-year-old legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar receiving the vaccine, which aired during the league’s widely watched Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate.
Over the past year, Popovich has been a vocal critic of anti-maskers and the handling of the pandemic by former President Donald Trump, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, his Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other politicians.
“We’ve been all over the map in Texas. Nobody knows what the hell’s going on,” Popovich told reporters at the advent of the NBA’s restart in July, expressing disappointment in the politicization of the pandemic. “We have a lieutenant governor [Dan Patrick] who decided he doesn’t want to listen to [Dr. Anthony] Fauci and those people any more. That makes a lot of sense. How safe can that be? The messaging is ridiculous.”
Following the November election, the Spurs coach expressed confidence in then-President-Elect Joe Biden’s ability to administer vaccine distribution, telling reporters in December, “He’ll show empathy, he’ll show leadership, he’ll have a plan, as opposed to our current president, who can’t really manage anything.”
There was serious concern about the safety of older coaches joining their teams last year for the NBA’s bubble experiment on the Walt Disney World campus in Florida, let alone traveling outside a protected environment this season. However, Popovich has given NBA commissioner Adam Silver his full confidence when it comes to coronavirus precautions and decisions related to potentially vaccinating league members.
“I put my full faith in Adam Silver and his group,” Popovich said last month. “They’re progressive, they’re wise, they care. They do the absolute best job they can to take care of the league, and at the same time understand players come first. I have full confidence that as we speak, they’re mulling over every situation that might come up and trying to grid themselves for things they can’t even anticipate at this point.”
Among the NBA’s first orders of business in that regard: Incorporate Popovich’s vaccination into a public awareness campaign, in hopes that message is more effective than those the Spurs coach has criticized.
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