Watching Gregg Popovich ether Donald Trump: While We’re Waiting

Gregg Popovich Spurs Cavs
Scott Sargent/WFNY

Before every Cleveland Cavaliers game, head coach Ty Lue addresses the media one hour and 45 minutes before opening tip. On the run-of-the-mill 7 p.m. start times, this means media should be in place by 5:15 p.m., adjusting accordingly for later games. Immediately following Ty’s address, however, is the visiting coach. Multiple times per year, we get to see guys like Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd. These instances are oftentimes very heavy on Xs and Os for things like game previews or the potential bigger story that would be filed later in the week. Once a season, however, Cleveland media is blessed with their lone chance of talking to Gregg Popovich at home.

Time for a side story here—stay with me as I promise it will all make sense. When I first started covering the team as a member of the credentialed horde, I was unaware of Pop’s outward disdain for all things media. The Cavaliers—having just dealt with the mid-summer Decision of LeBron James heading to Miami—were not good, so writing stories worthy of attention was very, very tough. By the time San Antonio was coming through town, James’ ostensible replacement at the small forward position was Alonzo Gee. Gee had played for the Spurs—though five games and 18 total minutes, mind you—so I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll go talk to Pop and see what he has to say about the kid.” Ho. Lee. Shit.

I went to Spurs shootaround, and had arrived a bit later than planned—or maybe they wrapped up sooner than anticipated, I’m unsure. I spoke to the Spurs media gatekeeper and he told me to just walk alongside Pop as he made his way from the court to the bus and get as many questions in as I could through those 90-some-odd seconds. Here was the head coach of a team that was about to be in the hunt for yet another NBA title, responding to inquiries about a kid who he barely got to know.

Looking back at it, I can see the empathy on Pop’s face; he knew I had no idea what I was getting myself into. He could have obliterated me right on the spot, but chose otherwise, giving me a few quotes that I could use for this incredibly insignificant story. It wasn’t until I got back to my office and tweeted my findings that I became aware of Pop’s M.O. with those of us with voice recorders.

Fast forward to two-plus years ago and the Spurs were in town and a host of us walked over to discuss the lay of the land. It goes without saying that Pop keeps everyone on their toes as lazy questions get shot down with epic fervor. The Plain Dealer’s Bill Livingston attempted to lead off with a story about the Miami Heat (this was months before LeBron’s return), and Pop ate him alive.

Livingston would eventually admit that he had not read anything Pop had said all year and stated that—I’m paraphrasing—he was writing a column on such a topic and needed a quote to fill in the gaps. Pop obliged, but not after undressing the long-time columnist in front of everyone. The best part about Pop is his inherent mandate that every question have merit. You could try to ask some throw-away question about a player struggling or “what happened when…”, but you’ll be buried alive. A “talk about…” question?1 Well, you’re on your own there. Thankfully, for everyone in the room, FOX Sports Ohio’s Jeff Phelps followed up with a very introspective question about Pop’s decision to not call time outs during moments of strife, and the head coach gave a terrific response—the kind that sticks with you enough to become anecdotal layers to columns like this one.

This, of course, led me to tweet this as I was walking down the corridors this past Saturday night:

Of course, I had insinuated that it would be a media member to get roasted. To be fair, it was almost as if there was a weird moment when no one wanted to be the first to ask a question, so Pop almost walked away having not responded to any of us. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin asked about the last time Pop played hoops—the late 80s, for what it’s worth—which got him talking. I asked about his team’s uncanny ability to stay under the radar and how he gets his players to buy in, and we were provided this:

“I want to be totally vanilla, whether someone says something great or something bad [about me],” Popovich said. “You can’t let that affect you. We have somebody in office right now who should take that lesson.”

This, that last sentence, opened the floodgates. McMenamin then followed up, as Pop was the one who mentioned the recently inaugurated president of the United States, to which Pop said, “I have a lot of opinions, but you don’t want to hear them…” before he slammed on the gas pedal and let loose.

“The march today was great,” Popovich said. “That message is important, and it could have been a whole lot of groups marching. And somebody said on TV, ‘What’s their message?’ Well, their message is obvious: Our president comes in with the lowest [approval] rating of anybody who ever came into the office, and there’s a majority of people out there, since Hillary [Clinton] won the popular vote, that don’t buy his act. And I just wish that he was more—had the ability to be more—mature enough to do something that really is inclusive rather than just talking and saying, ‘I’m going to include everybody.’ He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it. But so far, we’ve got [to] a point where you really can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth. You really can’t. ‘We went to Hawaii and checked Barack Obama’s birth certificate and couldn’t believe what we found!’ There was nothing there. That kind of thing.

I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age. It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t do us any good.

— Gregg Popovich

“So it’s over and over again. With the CIA today, instead of honoring the 117 people behind him where he was speaking, he talked about the size of the [inauguration] crowd. That’s worrisome. That’s worrisome. I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age. It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t do us any good. I hope he does a great job, but there’s a difference between respecting the office of the presidency and who occupies it. And that respect has to be earned. But it’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids, and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist and make fun of handicapped people. What really bothers me are the people around him. The Sean Spicers, the Kellyanne Conways, the Reince Priebuses that know who he is and actually have the cynical approach and disingenuous attitude to really defend him and try to make it look like he didn’t say what he said. And so when he’s mad at the media for them reporting what he said, that just boggles my mind.

“Kellyanne Conway, the other day, said he wasn’t really making fun of that handicapped person. It’s beyond incredible. It really makes you wonder how far someone will go to actually cover for someone that much. The comment was, ‘You have to look in his heart—you don’t know what’s in his heart, he wouldn’t do that.’ Well, he did. And all the things he said during that time, if our children would’ve said it, we’d have grounded them for six months. We ignore that because why? It says something about all of us and that’s what’s disingenuous. That’s what scares the hell out of me. It makes me uneasy.

“When the media reports what he says, I’m not sure why he can get angry about that. It does boggle the mind how somebody can be so thin-skinned. It’s all obvious — it’s about him. If anything affects him, if it’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ or ‘Hamilton’ or she got 3 more million votes than you. ‘They’re illegal.’ It doesn’t matter what it is, there’s a pattern there. And that’s dangerous. I’d like to have someone with gravitas, but he got there through the Electoral College, which is part of our system, and I hope he does some good things. There was a young lady on today who said, ‘I just wished he had gone up there and said something like, “And I know I said certain things …” or, you know, “I would really like to bring the people who don’t feel …” or, “I know some of you are scared.”‘ But he can’t do that because bullies don’t do that. That’s why.”

Yeah—that really happened. The pre-game presser, with nary a video camera to be seen, went from almost lasting a matter of seconds, to being 14 minutes—seven of which was spent discussing Donald Trump. Five years ago, I had a chance to listen to George Karl, who had recently been cleared to return after being diagnosed with a form of treatable cancer. This is all before George Karl The Author, an earnest conversation with a man who had yet to let his unfortunate experiences get the best of him. He was fantastic as he spoke about life—his life, his difficulties—as well as the impending trade of Carmelo Anthony from Denver. Pop is that raised to an exponent of your choosing—the guy is as cantankerous as ever when pressed to respond on the sidelines, but if you ask him the right questions at the right time, you get a gold mine of knowledge.

What’s weird is as naive as I was back in 2012, I’ve grown to respect Pop for being a man who keeps the media on their collective toes. Those sideline folks? They’re set up to fail every time they cover a Spurs game as he cares so little about minute-to-minute motions of a game that it makes for one of the most awkward obligations of every NBA season. Bill Livingston was simply trying to do his job, but Pop wasn’t going to let him get a free pass. Even one of the San Antonio reporters on Saturday took one on the chin when he asked about injury replacements. It wasn’t until bigger picture, cross-section, real life-type questions were asked that the NBA coaching legend opened up. We’re all that much better for it, regardless of your partisan stance.

If anyone should never STICK TO SPORTS!!!!, it’s Gregg Popovich. We may use sports as an escape from real life, but Pop used his platform as one of the best to make sure we don’t lose sight of what’s truly important. The true talent is him doing so while skewering lazy questions at the exact same time.

And finally, the return of #ActualSportswriting:

  1. The. Worst. []

  • nj0

    Bush intervened in Somalia. Clinton inherited it and pulled out as soon as he was given a reason to do so.

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading about Rwanda and believe intervention in the genocide definitely could have made a difference, at least in terms of stopping the killing. Of course, once that was achieved, then what? Stick around for god knows how long until the RPF and MRND hammer out a deal? Was that even possible? Hard to imagine that things would have been worse than genocide, of course, but I think there’s a distinct chance that such intervention would have eventually been viewed as a colossal, easily avoidable mistake.

  • tigersbrowns2

    holy mackerel … 301 comments !! any news on Jamie Collins ? … i was hearing 4 years at 12.36 Million per year , making him the highest paid LB in the NFL … let’s go already.

  • chrisdottcomm

    1. Well you’ve gone down a different path diverting to “immigration laws” versus the cost/effectiveness of a wall that is already being shows ineffective by border fencing. (Pssssst…. they just dig under it). So yeah, if you want to talk simple immigration reform I think we can both agree there is work to do there. IMO “path to citizenship” is an better alternate approach.

    2. HEAR HEAR! WE AGREE! How you make it work? …cut backs on military spending. The data on our military spending is easily found and a rationale approach to finding the funds necessary to cover all about ten times over.

    3. What should the US “get along” with the Russian/North Korean propaganda based authoritarian run governments about? Like, to just go over there and say “knock it off”?

  • Garry_Owen

    President Clinton’s decision to withdraw as soon as given a reason (which reason was the death of 18 soldiers from Task Force Ranger), proves my point re his stomach. What does it take to stop brutal killing? I submit that it is brutal killing of the brutal killers, a task for which I still think President Clinton lacked the stomach. And this is not necessarily an indictment of President Clinton, but more a statement of fact, primarily to reinforce your assessment of the quagmire. It would have been bad: Either a repeat of Task Force Ranger, or what preceded it in Somalia – Marines handing out food to warlords with loaded weapons kept on “safe.”

  • jpftribe

    “Be hesitant, almost to obstinance, to be involved in any military
    action, but be prepared, almost to excess, for any military contingency.”

    If you maintain a foreign policy based on this, it is far simpler to build an international coalition to intervene in humanitarian situations. One which has the representation and backing of the entire UN Security Council (not that this is the right mechanism, but the right representation). This is a global humanitarian problem, treat it like one.


    G_O, I know Rachel Maddow probably isn’t the first person you’d go to for reading, but if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend her book “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power”. It’s a well-researched, decidedly NOT biased look at the military since Vietnam and how executive power has crept in. Based on some of the things you’ve said, I think you’d really like it. It is decidedly not a left-wing screed.

  • nj0

    I’m more of an interventionist, but I generally agree with this approach. The devil is in the details, of course, and the moral calculus involved in these decisions is terrifying. What do millions of dead Rwandans (or Syrians) actually mean? How do they affect the United States? Its people? Me? What’s the conversion rate on American lives/treasure to Rwadan lives? Hard to deal with these questions and not come out sounding either like the worst person in the world or the most naive.

  • Garry_Owen

    I’ll tell you, I don’t know that I trust your assessment of it as being decidedly not biased (I generally think we are debilitatingly blind to our own biases), and I definitely have never considered reading anything of hers, but I will take your recommendation and check it out, in keeping with my desire to step outside of my echo chambers and see other peoples’ points of view. Thanks!


    1. “Nobody seems to be enforcing them.”

    2. Trump isn’t going to get anywhere close to this. That’s Bernie Sanders territory. That’s the complete antithesis to Trump’s big business stances.

  • tigersbrowns2

    you asked how much i was willing to contribute out of my paycheck … well , we are already paying for all illegals here already … stopping the influx of illegals will save much in taxpayer monies. the wall would be no more significant a symbol than border patrol guards , yet will be much more effective … again , he should build the wall to follow through on his campaign promise … and i don’t think it will be as easy as illegals simply tunneling under the wall … this is the land of technology , they’ll think of something.

    i don’t see Trump cutting back on military spending … looking at the Paul Ryan’s proposed budget cuts , i see international fund for ireland ($17 mill) – require collection of unpaid taxes by federal employees ($ 1 bill) – what are these , and some of the other ridiculous things , doing in the budget anyhow ?? … there should be plenty of other non-essential things to cut-back on to make sure every American has insurance & social security will be there for the long-haul.

  • Garry_Owen

    Well said. I agree.

    When I took my first civilian job, post-Army, a colleague of mine used to say about Iraq, “That f#$%ing place isn’t worth one drop of American blood or one cent of American treasure.” Having gotten to know and respect a number of Iraqis due to our intervention, I disagreed. I believed (and still believe) that they were worth it, even if they never appreciated it or realized the ultimate benefit of the sacrifice. But now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the blood shed itself that makes it worth it – which is an enormously uncomfortable ex post facto idea. Iraq wasn’t worth it until it became worth it when we started bleeding and dying.

    I was a raging interventionist before (and a few years after) taking part in such intervention. Now, I’m either a cold-hearted pragmatist, jaded protectionist, naïve hypocrite, or some combination of the three.

  • Garry_Owen



    Read the NYT review I linked, or at least the first two paragraphs of it. Roger Ailes wrote a blurb about it. Roger. Ailes.

  • nj0

    Just curious – what made you change your opinion?

  • jpftribe

    GO – Really appreciate you giving your perspective on this. Not one that I have had much exposure to and it certain gives plenty of food for thought.
    “I’m either a cold-hearted pragmatist, jaded protectionist, naïve hypocrite, or some combination of the three.”
    I would say maybe a little older and a little wiser.

  • Garry_Owen

    I read it. I’m intrigued. I will trust, but verify. : )


    FWIW, she *hammers* the Clinton administration pretty hard, if my memory serves.

  • Garry_Owen

    Don’t know that I can provide a simple, coherent answer. I guess I’d chalk it up to the following: Time; age; wounds; loss; perspectives from brother officers that I previously disagreed with; examination of the history of the war, divorced from the political dogma of both the left and right; Hurt Locker; Bone Clocks; Syria; Libya; ISIS; The Guns of August.

  • tigersbrowns2

    the problem is getting worse & worse … first Clinton deported the most , then Bush & now Obama … what that report doesn’t tell you is deportations under Obama have declined each of the last 3 years & there are more here now than ever … those deportations are a drop in the bucket when you look at the total … how did they get here in the first place , that is the problem. first he wanted to let children brought here to be able to stay , then their parents … it just doesn’t end. the law is the law … you’re either legal or you’re not … it’s pretty cut & dry.

  • Garry_Owen

    Older, for sure. Wiser? I don’t know. Probably. I believe that true wisdom only comes from experience, so I guess that’s true – but I could also see someone growing in wisdom and reaching converse conclusions based on the same or similar experience.

  • Garry_Owen

    Cool, but I have no more bones to pick with them. I’m fine if they just go in peace.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Oh lord no he’s not cutting back on the military. We’re two months away from him wearing the full uniform himself attending missile parades along Pennsylvania Avenue….it’s what I would do.

    I also have to chuckle hard at the “collection of unpaid taxes from federal employees” being enforced from the person who refuses to show his own tax returns, has admitted to doing everything in his power to avoid paying any taxes himself and ensured his products were made overseas at cheap labor costs.

  • tigersbrowns2

    okay , okay … chuckle all you want. i still say let’s judge him when his term is up , not his first day on the job … fair enough ?

  • mgbode

    fair and it well may have been

  • mgbode

    and then shall we get into the problems & political nature of anything that requires the world to agree on anything.

  • mgbode

    Paul Hubbard dominated a Training Camp back in the day

  • mgbode

    326 at the end of the work day — plenty of time to continue

  • nj0

    Thanks for that. I guess I find it particularly interesting that it was only years after your time overseas that you started to change your opinions. Not that I’m basing it on anything, but I would expect that kind of switch to take place during rather than after.

    One last thought: I worry that the lessons learned in the Middle East about the Middle East will be blindly applied to American foreign policy across the globe.

    “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

  • jpftribe

    Agreed there will continue to be plenty of attempts to clutter the agenda, but it shouldn’t be all that hard for genocide to clear the bar.

  • RGB

    Travis Wilson still thinks he’s our best WR.

  • humboldt

    Michael, would you agree with one or both of these statements?:

    -Abortion is a moral abomination that causes unnecessary loss of life.

    -Lack of basic healthcare coverage for all Americans is a moral abomination that causes unnecessary loss of life.

    Not trying to trap you, am interested in your honest opinion

  • humboldt

    Withdrawing from TPP – I’m pretty happy with Day 1. It’s the next couple thousand I’m worried about 🙂

  • Christopher

    I think these comments have to be the best things I’ve read in months. Kudos to everyone here for having an open, honest, respectful discussion about difficult topics.

  • mgbode

    What is basic healthcare coverage?

    And, I thankfully have not had to do so in my adult life but hospitals were not allowed to deny people care even before ACA, right? The issue was cost & adding wait times to ER.

    Not trying to evade but it is an important distinction to define.

    People should be able to get healthcare but how they obtain it is another story entirely.

  • humboldt

    Basic health coverage = universal access to ongoing health care (which every major Western industrialized government provides for its citizens except the US, which keeps trying to solve through mixed free market approaches).

    The issue isn’t being seen when one is in a dire health situation–you are correct that Emergency Rooms must provide care–but rather that people lack access to ongoing care that might prevent or screen for downstream lethal conditions. The moral issue is that the lack of basic coverage leads to unnecessary loss of life.

    I’m not criticizing conservatives, but I honestly just don’t understand how one can ignore the moral dimensions of this issue, or treat the obvious suffering and loss of life as an unfortunate abstraction (maybe it’s b/c I see the direct consequences firsthand at a hospital?). As mentioned above, I acknowledge and honor the deep moral resonance of the argument made by the pro-life camp even though I’m softly pro-choice–just trying to understand why the gap exists on the health care issue

  • mgbode

    First, note that I haven’t said health care shouldn’t be available to all, we just disagree on what that looks like.

    I do see the moral issue at play, but also think there is more to it than simply providing everything free and without strings. The basic tenet of my ethical thought is that there is personal responsibility in all you do. When that is detached is when people lose their grasp of value.

    It is important in health care because people need to take care of themselves (healthy people help drive down a shared cost for all). They need to be giving something to obtain health care due to it being the obstacle that they will want to avoid (and thus impetus in having personal responsibility in their own health). Whether it be money or time or something else is a matter of policy and direction.

    Circling back though it comes back to how you provide such. Insurance for major (needs to be defined) events with general events & maintenance paid for individually (with some type of program similar to WIC for those who cannot afford such) is a better overall solution to me.

  • humboldt

    Thanks for the response Michael, that helps me better understand your perspective.

    That said, conceptually, I think it is unfortunate to view health care in terms of personal responsibility. Our health is, to a large degree random and unpredictable – no matter how hard we try, we can’t fully control our genes, the environments we’re born into, age-related processes, or the simple vagaries of life. That is why all other industrialized countries invest, through collective taxation, in providing basic health care coverage for everyone–so that people don’t suffer, die, or go bankrupt due to any combination of bad decisions and bad luck.

    This same logic goes for police, military, road infrastructure, schools and any number of “socialist” services. We don’t tell people, ‘hey, it’s a dangerous world so take personal responsibility by hiring your own security force’, or ‘hey, take responsibility for building the roads you need.’ We realize that public safety and public commerce, like public health, is a social good, and invest in providing services accessible to everyone. Some do go above and beyond and carry weapons, or hire body guards, or home-school kids, but there is at least a minimum service provided to all to give everyone a basic level of ‘protection’.

    Another dimension of this that bothers me is that we are a nation ostensibly steeped in strong Christian values. Christ would never have told the sick and suffering that they should just take responsibility for their health! Rather, he healed the “blind, lame, paralyzed, leprous” regardless of status, wealth, or remuneration and commanded his disciples to “cure the sick”. How is this teaching so readily bracketed in the health care debate by those devoted to following Christ’s teachings? I just don’t understand how morality is drained from the debate. Help me understand! 🙂

  • mgbode

    I do not think we are far off on our mindset here. I think we are just thinking about the same problem from a different POV and landing at different spots. Those spots might seem far apart, but I don’t think they really are at the core.

    We do have personal responsibility in all things and Christ values do depict them as such throughout his teachings. The parable of the seeds is one great example.

    Quick-hitters on the examples you mentioned just to demonstrate.

    Fire: burn-bans, fire alarms (& batteries), extinguishers on-hand, etc. are all personal responsibilities. If things get out of hand (big events), then we have the FD to help.

    PD: walking in groups, having cell phone, possible mace, extra protection, etc. are all here for avoiding conflict as best we can. Also though, general things such as obeying the speed limit, etc. If things get out of hand (big events), then the PD is there to help.

    School: almost an inverse to everything else we are discussing here. sure, you can send your kid to public school and do nothing else and hope for the best. the kids who are proven to do well even in that environment are those who have parents who understand their personal responsibility to help their kids and teach at home (both academic & other knowledge).

    Road infrastructure: I view this one differently. More in the realm of clean water/waste water. It can be done privately but always funded as a community as we all utilize these things over longer periods of time. It is a resource we are using but cannot use individually.

    Again, I’m not saying that everyone should not have access. They should. My view is more on how that looks. Big events should absolutely all be covered by a systematic health coverage. Maintenance and smaller issues should be personal responsibility with an assistance program for those that cannot afford it.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Here is where i will draw the line on “fair”…

    When he completely divests his companies (or places them into an actual blind trust, not his sons with whom he speaks to everyday) clearing him of the constitutional emoluments clause, when he ceases spreading outright massive easily disprovable lies (Millions of illegal votes were cast causing him to lose the popular election, US crime is at an all time high, etc), when he shows he is capable of job creation and not taking credit for already announced growth (i.e. – Sprint/Softbank, Chrysler/Fiat), when he is able to act maturely to criticisms versus taking to Twitter and lashing out at detractors.

    When all those things stop I can then begin to “judge” the full body of his work.

    Fair enough?

  • tigersbrowns2

    … yessir , fair enough.

  • humboldt

    How do you propose to differentiate “smaller” and “larger” health issues? Who would develop the classification for the tens of thousands of maladies, ailments, and injuries that afflict human beings? The practical application of what you’re suggesting is literally impossible. It is akin to a fire department assessing each fire someone calls in and saying, “You know, the kitchen fire is bad, but it doesn’t meet our parameters, so you take responsibility for putting this one out. If it extends to your living room and dining room, we’ll maybe consider helping you.”

    Much easier and more humane to have everyone in the culture (who is able) exercise their “personal responsibility” by paying taxes to fund a system that provides universal coverage for all procedures, across the board. Just as we pay for our military, police, firemen to protect all citizens, regardless of whether they are employed and paying taxes, our healthcare system should provision care irrespective of financial status. Literally every other developed country in the world has implemented a system like this—except the US. And, as is repeated ad nauseam, our healthcare outcomes are middling to poor, and we spend more than any other country on earth to achieve those outcomes.

    The debate about Christian values and health care is an interesting one–one that would probably be better had in person

  • mgbode

    No doubt, a good conversation but I think you are making things a bit unnecessarily complex and you probably think I’m being a bit naive with the potential usage model.

    Agree to disagree but thank you for talking it through.