LOS ANGELES — USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich said what former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has done to bring light to social justice and racial inequality “was a very patriotic thing.”
Popovich, the longtime coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has spoken multiple times in the past about Kaepernick, who drew national attention while with the Niners in 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem before games to protest racial oppression and police brutality. Popovich has said before that he believes Kaepernick will be revered in the future like other athletes who have stood and fought for social justice in the past.
Speaking after the U.S. team practice at the Los Angeles Lakers‘ practice facility on Tuesday, Popovich was asked about some of the divisiveness in the country today and about showing patriotism.
“Patriotism means a lot of things to different people,” Popovich said. “There’s people who are truly committed in that sense and people who are fake. The show of patriotism I think is a bit inappropriate and that is not something that I think we want to emulate. Because someone hugs a flag doesn’t mean they’re patriotic. Being a patriot is somebody that respects their country and understands that the best thing about our country is that we have the ability to fix things that have not come to fruition for a lot of people so far.”
“All the promises in the beginning when the country was established is fantastic, but those goals have not been reached yet for a lot of people,” Popovich continued. “So you can still be patriotic and understand that there still needs to be criticism and changes and more attention paid to those who do not have what other people do have, and that’s where we’ve fallen short in a lot of different ways. Being a critic of those inequalities does not make you a non-patriot. It’s what makes America great, that you can say those things and attack those things to make them better. That’s what a lot of other countries don’t have. You lose your freedom when you do that.”
Popovich then praised Kaepernick, who last played for the 49ers in 2016 and said last week that he was “still ready” after more than two seasons out of the NFL.
“To negate that part of what we’re able to do is ignorant on anybody’s part who tries to make those people look unpatriotic,” Popovich said. “Like a Kaepernick. That was a very patriotic thing he did. He cared about his country enough to fix some things that were obvious, that everybody knows about but does nothing about.”
One topic Popovich did steer clear of was a recent comment made by Serbian national team coach Aleksandar “Sasha” Djordjevic about potentially playing against U.S. Djordjevic said that if the Americans and Serbians meet in next month’s World Cup, “Let’s let them play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them,” according to Eurohoops.net and Mozzart Sport.
“You’ll have to ask Sasha,” Popovich said. “I don’t really pay attention too much. I’ve been doing this too long. But he’s a hell of a coach. He’s a competitor, and he’s been a hero in Europe as a player. He was fantastic, and they have a program that goes way back with a lot of success.
“They do have a heck of a team. There is no doubt about that. They’re deep and talented, and they are going to work their fannies off. They want to win just like anybody else. People will talk, but that is usually not something I respond to.”
U.S. point guard Kemba Walker welcomed the trash talk.
“I could care less, man,” Walker told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “Honestly, we’re going to take it one game at a time. At the end of the day, we both have to make it to a certain place for us to even play each other.”
“I guess when we get there, if we match up, then we’ll see what’s up,” the veteran Boston Celtics player added. “But it’s fine. I’m fine with a little bit of trash talking. I don’t mind it at all.”
Injury update: Fellow Celtics guard Marcus Smart remained sidelined because of tightness in his left calf.
“He’s probably going to be day-to-day kind of thing but probably won’t practice the next couple of days,” Popovich said.