NBA coach: ‘People have to be made to feel uncomfortable’

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich answered questions during media day at the team’s practice facility, Monday in San Antonio. Eric Gay | AP

Gregg Popovich, the undisputed finest coach in the National Basketball Association, provided a response to the “just stick to sports” crowd in the wake of yesterday’s protests at football games.

Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, provided exactly what has been missing in the nation over the last 72 hours — a calm and honest perspective about the problems facing the society in which he lives.

In a business in which people in authority take no risks, Popovich has always been an ill fit. He has made no secret of his disdain for the administration, but he says he’s bored with talking about the president, preferring to talk about voters instead.

“They wanted change; they felt ignored,” he said of voters who handed the president an Electoral College win. “They actually thought something would happen that would aid them, but at what price?” he said.

“Someone else that might have had a little more decency about how they approach other people and other groups might have served better, and that’s what I worry about in the country. You wonder if you live where you thought you lived.”

Popovich, who was participating in his team’s media day, cited the response from Richard Petty Racing team owner Richard Childress when asked what he would do if one of his employees protested.

“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over,” Childress said. “I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have gave their lives for it. This is America.”

“Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States,” Richard Petty added

“That blew me away,” Popovich said at his news conference today. “That’s where I live. I had no idea I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing. I’m not totally naive but I think these people have been enabled by an example that we’ve been given.”

Our country is an embarrassment in the world. This is an individual who actually thought when people held arms during the games that they were doing it to honor the flag. That’s delusional. But it’s what we have to live with.

So you’ve got a choice. We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall with his conduct or we can decide that the institutions of our country are more important, that the people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important and get down to business at the grassroots level and do what we have to do.

Race is the elephant in the room and we all understand that, but unless it is talked about, constantly, it’s not going to get better.

People get bored. ‘Oh is it that again.’ ‘They’re pulling the race card again.’ ‘Why do we have to talk about that again?’ Well, because it’s uncomfortable, and there has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change… People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people because we’re comfortable.

We still have no clue what being born white means … It’s like you’re in the 50-meter mark of a 100-meter dash and you’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white, you have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there.

And they have been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it. It’s too difficult. It can’t be on their plate on a daily basis. People want to hold their position. People want the status quo. People don’t want to give that up. And until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.

When a reporter moved Popovich off politics and back to the play of his team, it seemed trivial.

Because in the big scheme of things, sports is.