So, imagine that you're a basketball fan in the deep-red corner of Texas, and you want to root for your team in the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks have packed it in, so that leaves the San Antonio Spurs. This is a team that has made it to the NBA post season twenty-one years in a row. Over the course of those years, they have won five championships. That's a lot to celebrate.
Unless you happen to be a Trump fan as well. The Spurs' coach, Gregg Popovich has spent the last year and a half being very outspoken about his political beliefs, which run pretty consistently contrary to many of his team's fans. He has called the United States “an embarrassment to the world” and the president a “soulless coward” and a “pathological liar.” The veteran coach is disgusted by comments he called “xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic” — “and I live in a country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me,” he said after the election.
For many, this was a quandary best solved by ending a relationship they have enjoyed for more than two decades. Instead of savoring every additional game played after the regular season, many Spurs supporters have turned their back on the team because of their coach's outspoken opinions regarding the state of affairs as he sees them. “I often curse Pop for doing what he did,” said Bob Mulherin, a Spurs fan for more than twenty-five years. “He insulted more than half of the Spurs’ fan base, and no sign whatsoever of an apology.” Sorry, Bob. There is no crying in baseball, and no apologies in basketball. Especially when the word is coming down from coach Popovich.
It is likely that the defending NBA champion, the Golden State Warriors, will finish off the Spurs in this first round of the 2018 playoffs. That leaves a long post season to grumble and moan about the way Gregg Popovich led the team, on and off the court. The Warriors are coached by Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich back in the day, and the two remain friends all these years later, with Kerr echoing many of his former coach's sentiments. And amplifying them.
The Bay Area is not as tough an audience as Texas for such talk, but there are still plenty of folks who wish that these guys would just "shut up and dribble." That's not me. These men are leaders, and it is the courage of their convictions that have brought them where they are. That's why it was a double whammy when Popovich's wife of four decades died this past week. It was a Warriors player, Kevin Durant who expressed his sympathy from the NBA community, "This is bigger than the game."
It's just a game. The rest is real life.