San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Saturday he initially thought about sitting out the NBA restart in Orlando, Florida, given his age, but he decided to go because he was confident in the precautions in place and the opportunity to continue conversations around social justice.
“I talked to a lot of people, I talked to [commissioner] Adam [Silver], and you find out pretty quickly what he and his staff of many have gone through to put this thing together,” Popovich said. “I honestly do believe, and it’s not just me being a loyal soldier to the NBA, I’ve done my share of criticizing here and there when I thought it was necessary, but I don’t know where else you would be as safe as we are right now. They can’t spoil us here as much as they usually do, before COVID — we’re pretty spoiled, in all kinds of ways. So we’re not as spoiled now, but it’s good for all of us.”
Popovich, who at 71 is the current oldest coach in the NBA, gave consideration to not joining the Spurs, but he was medically cleared and held his first practice with the full team on Saturday.
“Especially being 71 years old, I thought, ‘Is this where I want to spend a lot of my time? Doing this? Under these circumstances?'” Popovich said. “The last couple days, I thought I was going through my doolie [freshman] year at training camp at the [Air Force] academy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 are at an increased risk to complications from COVID-19. In early June, Silver said on TNT the league might have to consider alternative options for coaches at more advanced ages. That was quickly met with pushback, and coaches such as Popovich, Alvin Gentry (65) and Mike D’Antoni (69) are now in Orlando with their teams, fully participating.
“From an intellectual point of view and a medical point of view, I would have to say not probably, but I am safer here — if this bubble works — I’m safer here than I would be in Texas. For sure. As you see what’s going on there.”
Popovich has long been an active voice in the NBA regarding cultural and political issues, and he sees the Orlando restart as part of the responsibility in maintaining the momentum happening across the world in regard to social justice and racism.
“Since the decision was made to do this, to start the season the season again under these circumstances with all the precautions, what a great opportunity to make race an upfront, most important activity that happens on a social level while we’re here,” Popovich said. “People will enjoy the games and the athleticism and the losses and the wins and the excitement, but the message that the league wants to send is one of equity. And no injustice for anyone and making sure people have to think about it every day. Whether it’s a coach or player speaking up, it’s the momentum that we have to keep, and the league can be a great communicator for that.”
The majority of Popovich’s nearly 30-minute video session on Saturday was spent discussing social justice and racism. Asked what he has learned over the past few months, Popovich said he has always considered himself a well-educated and informed person with regard to race, but he was stunned when he researched further, specifically where it pertains to the Black community.
“Even for people like myself who think we’ve had a good feel for the injustice and inequity,” Popovich said, “we didn’t know crap.”
“Specifically, I had no idea from about from the end of the Civil War to about 1950, 6,500 lynchings,” Popovich explained. “That’s hard to fathom … that’s two lynchings a week. For four decades. I can’t fathom that. I can’t …”
Popovich paused for a moment as he appeared to become emotional before he continued.
“So that type of information makes it even more critical that enough is enough. It’s got to stop,” he said. “It can’t be thrown under the rug. And that’s where I hope we’ll be to educate even more to get the truth out so the myths are busted and the comfort level for white people is totally destroyed. Because it’s impossible, in my mind, for we white people to accept wealth, privilege, when we know, when the virus has made it so obvious, how unfair, how cruel the system has been. You can’t go on and enjoy your life if you don’t understand what has happened to so many.”
Popovich pointed to a number of factors and discussions happening but said there should be a renewed focus on reparations.
“A lot of cities are talking about the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ as far as policing is concerned, and that’s all great,” he said. “But we need to get the point where on multiple levels actions are being taken, sure, with the police, especially with police unions. But more than that, we have to get to the reparations discussion.”
“None of us were educated what reconstruction really meant,” he added. “When we all learned that Lincoln freed the slaves, he’s a hero and the slaves are free. That was it. There was nothing else. And to this day, there are millions of white Americans who still live by all these myths and have no idea about what actually happened in reconstruction and what happened when reconstruction turned into redemption and what all that the Jim Crow laws meant.”
Popovich directed attention to a recent piece in The New York Times Magazine by Nikole Hannah-Jones about reparations, encouraging people to read it.
“I would suggest it for anyone because I think it’s a template for at least understanding where we are, why we are and how we have to get all the way to the reparations discussion and not just wait for legislations and laws,” he said. “We’ve had those.”