Before his San Antonio Spurs took on James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Popovich spoke with reporters about LeBron’s recent bout with controversy outside the white lines of the basketball court. James and Kevin Durant criticized President Donald Trump in a clip for James’ Uninterrupted platform, with the four-time NBA MVP saying that that Trump, elected to “the No. 1 job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a f*** about the people.” The clip went viral, eventually reaching the desk of Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham, who called James and Durant’s comments “ignorant” and recommended that they “keep the political commentary to [themselves], or, as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.’”
During a media session at All-Star Weekend, James declined to take Ingraham’s advice. During his pre-game chat on Saturday, Popovich — an Air Force Academy graduate who served five years in the military, and who has frequently voiced his displeasure with the state of affairs in the U.S. political system and broader discourse — lauded LeBron for his commitment to speaking about the issues that matter to him, and chastised Ingraham and anyone else who’d call on NBA players to pipe down on political matters for what he termed “an unbelievable show of arrogance.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called Laura Ingraham's "shut up and dribble" comments directed at LeBron "an unbelievable show of arrogance." He encouraged LeBron to continue to speak on issues and to continue to be a hero and a role model. #Cavs pic.twitter.com/zNzvwXHgZa
— clevelanddotcom (@clevelanddotcom) February 25, 2018
“I don’t pick and choose what LeBron should talk about any more than any talking heads who try to pick and choose,” Popovich said Sunday afternoon. “To me, when I heard about that it was just an unbelievable show of arrogance for a talking head to try and tell someone else if they can speak, what they can speak about and when and where to do it. It’s just ludicrous.” […]
“To not have a feel for who this guy is — I mean, think about when he came into public view. How young was he? And to this day, he hasn’t missed a step. He hasn’t fallen off the ledge and, he’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others,” Popovich said. “They see in this guy, somebody who has consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace and gives them a voice and lets them know that you can speak about anything.
“There really is a First Amendment, and you can have opinions — as a coach, as a plumber, as an astrophysicist and a lowly reporter. They can have whatever opinions they want. And that’s what’s amazing about this, when you look at this guy — how many millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars he’s given, tens of millions of kids that are inspired by him. It’s kind of like the ‘Black Panther’ movie. How cool is that for kids to see that, to have that superhero? Well, LeBron’s been that for a long time.
“For somebody to be totally numb to that and attack him in such a childish way really speaks more volumes about that individual than it does LeBron. He’s very, very special. We should all be very proud that we have someone like that who’s willing to speak about a variety of topics and you listen to them all.”
James — who, coincidentally, spoke during All-Star Weekend about his appreciation for “Black Panther” and the value of its representation — offered praise for Pop’s support after the Spurs’ 110-94 win over the Cavs on Sunday, and re-emphasized his belief in the importance of acting as a role model for young African-American kids.
“You guys know how much I love Pop,” James said. “For me as an athlete, and for me as a role model, I just try to do my part to help these kids and the youth understand how important their lives are, and [that] they can become anything in this world. No matter the negativity that may be going on around them, there’s always a brighter side.
“So, for me, while I have this platform, I’m going to continue to do that, and continue to lend my voice and lend my spirit and lend my inspiration to these kids. Because I know exactly what they’re going through. Because I was one of them at one point in time, not too long ago. Pop is definitely one of my all-time favorite people that I’ve ever crossed paths with in my life.”
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