MIAMI, USA – San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he was "thrilled" by NBA commissioner Adam Silver's defense of the values of free speech amid a rift that threatens lucrative business partnerships in China.
Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and coach of the US Basketball World Cup team that competed last month in China, was asked about the row before his team's preseason game against the Heat in Miami on Tuesday, October 8.
He praised Silver for championing "freedom of expression for our employees" after a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong ignited a firestorm in China. (READ: NBA: 'We are not apologizing' for Hong Kong tweet)
"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."
Popovich, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, went on seemingly to compare Silver favorably with Trump – although he did not mention the president by name.
"A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise," Popovich said. "It wasn't easy for him to say. (Silver) 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 3 years. So I'm thrilled with what he said. The courage and leadership displayed is off the charts by comparison.
"We've all talked about or heard about all the questions that all the talking heads have and everybody had for the last 3 years, 'What kind of country do you want to be? Who are we? Where do we want to go?'
"Adam said something that helps you understand what direction you need to go in, rather than the cowardice of not being able to respond to something of the murder of Mr (Jamal) Khashoggi. There are many, many incidents like that where leadership and courage mean nothing. It's all about personal aggrandizement.
"So I was thrilled."
Silver was preparing to fly from Tokyo to China on Wednesday for scheduled preseason games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets when the Shanghai Sports Federation scrapped a planned fan event citing Morey's "inappropriate statement" and Silver's "inappropriate position."
Press availabilities with the teams were canceled.
China's state broadcaster and internet giant Tencent – which streams NBA games – had already said they would not air the two Lakers-Nets games and major Chinese sponsors have cut ties. – Rappler.com