San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is a five-time NBA champion. He joined Dr. Cornel West to speak with Texas high schoolers.
West is a professor at Harvard and a well-known civil activist. The two answered questions for 250 studentsSam Houston High School in San Antonio. The entire Spurs roster was also in the crowd.
Popovich and West discussed empowerment and the importance of a strong community. Unsurprisingly, one student asked Pop when his team would next take home a title (via The Nation).
“Win the championship? I don’t know, but it’s not a priority in my life. I’d be much happier if I knew that my players were going to make society better, who had good families and who took care of the people around them. I’d get more satisfaction out of that than a title.”
That’s a fascinating answer from the three-time NBA Coach of the Year. Basketball is obviously important to him — he began his career as a coach back in 1973 at Air Force.
But Popovich seems more interested in making the world a more productive place, which gives me more and more goosebumps each time that I read the quote.
Here is more of the quote from Popovich during the conversation with the student:
“I would love to win another championship, and we’ll work our butts off to try and do that. But we have to want more than success in our jobs. That’s why we’re here. We’re here so you’ll understand that you can overcome obstacles by being prepared and if you educate the hell out of yourself. If you become respectful, disciplined people in this world, you can fight anything. If you join with each other and you believe in yourself and each other, that’s what matters.”
The Spurs coach encourages his players to fight injustices in this world and collaborate with those around them to create a better society. That’s a beautiful sentiment and one too often lacking in the sports world.
Last month, Popovich went on a six-minute rant about why he was terrified about the recent election and how he lives in a country that is homophobic, xenophobic, racist and misogynistic (via Spurs Nation Podcast).
Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy had a similar take when asked about Donald Trump:
“I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic. We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking this is where we are as a country. … It’s just, we have said — and my daughters, the three of them — our society has said, ‘No, we think you should be second-class citizens. We want you to be second-class citizens. And we embrace a guy who is openly misogynistic as our leader.’ I don’t know how we get past that.”
In July, the NBA moved the All-Star Game away from North Carolina due to a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
A month prior, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told Mercury News that “the rest of the world thinks we are insane, we are insane” with regards to police-involved gun shootings.
New York Knicks veteran Carmelo Anthony, as well as other NBA stars, appeared in a recent PSA to help prevent gun violence.
Anthony said that players have “much more responsibility now” than ever before to make a stand.
But this is not new for the NBA. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and others wore shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe” though it violated the league’s dress code.
None of the players were fined by the league. In fact, the decision was even endorsed by President Barack Obama (via People).
“We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”
In the NBA, unlike in the NFL, players have guaranteed contracts. This encourages freedom of speech more than other leagues.
But it helps to have coaches like Popovich, who worry less about winning championships and more about the greater good of society.
West called Popovich “not just a great coach but a great human being” after the Spurs legend responded the way that he did in the town hall meeting.