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Gregg Popovich 'thrilled' over Adam Silver's 'courageous' response to China controversy

Steve Kerr settled on no comment when asked about the NBA’s China controversy on Monday.

His outspoken coaching counterpart with the San Antonio Spurs took a different tack on Tuesday.

When broached with the topic before a preseason game against the Miami Heat, Gregg Popovich praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver for his handling of the situation that started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with the Chinese government that read: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.”

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NBA’s initial response met with scorn

The NBA faced fire for its initial response describing Morey’s tweet as “regrettable” and appearing to side with an oppressive Chinese regime over the human rights of Hong Kong protestors and Morey’s freedom to speak his mind.

Silver spoke to the backlash Tuesday morning after the league faced criticism for appearing to prioritize its significant financial stake in China, which responded to Morey’s tweet with actions to cut off access of the the NBA through state-run media to its 1.4 billion citizens.

Popovich praises Silver’s progressive leadership

Popovich’s response was informed by Silver’s Tuesday statement vowing not to regulate speech such as Morey’s.

He started by touting Silver’s and the NBA’s bonafides as a progressive commissioner and league.

"I guess I can go at it this way,” Popovich said, per the San Antonio Express News. “Adam is a very progressive leader. We all remember how he handled the situation with the former owner of the Clippers. It made everybody proud because it was the right thing to do. A couple of years ago, I was walking the streets in New York City during the gay pride parade. I turned around and here comes a float, and Adam is standing on a float with a big sign in support of LGBTQ. And I felt great again, just like I did with the Clipper deal.”

Gregg Popovich is the latest voice to join what has been a largely united front from the NBA. (Getty)Gregg Popovich is the latest voice to join what has been a largely united front from the NBA. (Getty)
Gregg Popovich is the latest voice to join what has been a largely united front from the NBA. (Getty)

Popovich: Silver is ‘very courageous’

Popovich continued, praising Silver for his free speech stance delivered Tuesday.

"He came out strongly for freedom of speech,” Popovich said. “I felt great again. He's been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we've had to live through the past three years, it's a big difference. A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise. It wasn't easy for him to say. He said that in an environment fraught with possible economic peril.

“But he sided with the principles that we all hold dearly, or most of us did until the last three years. I'm thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.”

United front from NBA

The NBA is in the midst of perhaps the most difficult controversy it’s ever faced — most certainly the most tenuous of the Silver era. In a league filled with outspoken progressive voices, none have come out publicly so far against the NBA’s initial controversial stance.

James Harden apologized to China. Kerr declined to comment. LeBron James has been conspicuously silent. And now Popovich is heaping praise on Silver.

As the league continues to face intense scrutiny, its key figures are closing ranks and presenting a united front.

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