By MIKE MONROE
(Editor’s note: Mike Monroe’s new book “”100 Things Spurs Should Know And Do Before They Die” has just been released and is available for purchase at Amazon.com by clicking in the book section of woodypaige.com.)
SAN ANTONIO — Disgusted with politics?
Can’t stand the presidential candidates presented by any of the political parties, major or third?
Here’s a solution: Popovich for President.
Throughout his long tenure as head coach of the Spurs, Gregg Popovich never has been afraid to express a political opinion, usually in election years, but not always.
A day before the Spurs opened training camp in late September the team held a media day session that began with a quizzing of the three-time NBA Coach of the Year. After many questions about how the Spurs would respond to the retirement of Tim Duncan, the bearded 67-year-old was asked if he would care to share his thoughts “on what’s going on in America.”
What followed was an amazing discourse on race in America and first amendment rights. But Popovich began with a disclaimer that he was hardly one to offer solutions to such thorny issues.
That, alone, sets him apart from the politicians who have driven political discourse into the sewer this fall.
“I think it’s really dangerous to answer such important questions that have confounded so many people for hundreds of years, to ask me to give you my solutions, as if I had any, in 30 seconds,” Popovich said. “So if you want to be specific about a question, I’ll be more than happy to answer it because I think race is the elephant in the room in our country.
“The social situation that we’ve all experienced is absolutely disgusting in a lot of ways. What’s really interesting is the people that jump right away to say, one is attacking the police, or the people that jump on the other side. It’s a question where understanding and empathy has to trump, no pun intended, any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature. It’s a topic that can’t just be swung at. People have to be very accurate and direct in what they say and do.”
Then he was asked, specifically, if he supported the athletes who had been protesting police shootings of African-Americans by kneeling, bowing their heads or raising a fist during the national anthem before games, a movement notably begun by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done,” Popovich said. “The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. [Martin Luther] King getting large groups together and boycotting buses, or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is to keep it in the conversation. When’s the last time you heard the name Michael Brown? With our 24/7 news, things seem to drift. We’re all trying to just exist and survive.
“It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience. It’s not just a rogue policeman, or a policeman exerting too much force or power, when we know that most of the police are just trying to do their job, which is very difficult. I’d be scared to death if I was a policeman and I stopped a car. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And part of that in our country is exacerbated by the preponderance of guns that other countries don’t have to deal with. It gets very complicated.
“At this point, when somebody like Kaepernick brings attention to this, and others who have, it makes people have to face the issue because it’s too easy to let it go because it’s not their daily experience. If it’s not your daily experience, you don’t understand it. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But for sure, the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities.”
Not long afterwards, a nascent “Popovich for President” movement, one that began a few years ago, took off, in its own quirky way. There are bumper stickers and T-shirts, available online, and it is not unusual to see them when one drives around The Alamo City.
Popovich is aware of them and appropriately unmoved.
“Very flattering, but misplaced,” he said. “I’m not smart enough.”
In fact, Popovich has an intellect that is unmatched in all of sports. I once asked Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle what it was that made Popov[MM1] ich such a great coach and his response was so remarkable it came across as a joke.
“I think he’s the smartest person in the history of the world,” Carlisle said, whereupon a small band of cynical reporters broke into group guffaw.
“No, I’m serious,” Carlisle said. “I think he is the smartest person ever.”
Of course, Popov[MM2] ich’s IQ likely is a few points below those of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Peter Higgs.
Don’t doubt it exceeds that of anyone actively running for president.
(Mike Monroe has been a sports reporter since 1968, when he was the only person willing to take a full-time job at the Colorado Springs Free Press that paid only $78 a week. He has worked for four newspapers, two websites and one pro team. He has covered everything from wrist wrestling, boxing, drag racing and something called boom battle to football, baseball, hockey and basketball in venues from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Mar del Plata, Argentina, to Rome, Italy; Regina, Saskatchewan and Lahaina, Maui. Since 1985 he has been assigned nearly exclusively to professional basketball: 1985-2000 covering the Nuggets/NBA for The Denver Post; 2000-2003 covering the NBA for FoxSports.com; 2004-2016 covering the Spurs/NBA for the San Antonio Express-News; and most recently covering the sport for The Rivard Report, a non-profit, community journalism website in San Antonio that he believes is the future of local journalism. He is a former Colorado Sportswriter of the Year and, in 2014, received the Professional Basketball Writers Association’s Phil Jasner Career Achievement Award. Mike has written a few books, most recently a look at the history of the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs entitled “100 Things Spurs Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.” Mike will be a contributor on all things NBA to woodypaige.com.)