HOUSTON – The United States’ National Basketball Association’s crisis with China over a pro-Hong Kong tweet reached on Wednesday the White House, where US President Donald Trump accused the coaches of the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors for “pandering to China.”
Speaking on the matter for the first time, Trump said that the two sides would have to “work out their own situation” but came down hard on Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, coaches of the Spurs and Warriors, respectively.
Kerr, who has been publicly critical of Trump and has expressed his opinion on several social issues in the US, declined on Monday to comment on last week’s tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Trump tore into Kerr, saying that the eight-time NBA champion “was like a little boy who was so scared to be answering the question. He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’”
“He didn’t know how to answer the question. Yet, he’ll talk about the United States very badly,” Trump added.
Popovich also abstained from directly addressing the situation in Hong Kong, although he praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver for his stance in support of free speech.
“I watched Popovich do sort of the same thing. But he didn’t look quite as scared, actually,” Trump mused. “They’ll talk badly about the United States, but when the talk’s about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually.”
“I watch the way that, like, Kerr and Popovich and some of the others were pandering to China and yet to our own country, it’s like they don’t respect it… isn’t it sad,” he added.
Meanwhile, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said that “from the league and China and just our presence there and the way we’ve been building the business it’s an interesting situation” but added, “there’s so much history involved and I don’t know that history well enough to kind of speak on it or form an opinion yet.”
Many NBA coaches have remained silent on the issue, including Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, who refused to answer questions on the matter in the post-game conference after his team played in Tokyo.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, another critic of Trump, also declined to go into details about the NBA crisis in China.
Kerr is not expected to speak to the media until Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, unless the Warriors make an exception.
Curry, who has been traveling to China for the past six years for promotional events, said he was unsure how the existing situation would affect his future plans.
Speaking in Japan on Tuesday, Silver said that he and the league are “apologetic” for the outcome and reaction following Morey’s tweet but noted that “we are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, an NBA Cares event in Shanghai involving the Los Angeles Lakers was canceled on Wednesday, just hours before it was scheduled to start and Chinese state media and broadcasters have already reported that they have canceled the broadcast of two NBA pre-season games in China.
In addition, all of the NBA’s official Chinese partners have suspended ties with the league as a result of Morey’s controversial tweet.
NBA China lists 11 wholly-owned Chinese companies as its official partners in the country on its website, all of which now say they have suspended business with the league.