Spurs Popovich Trump

Spurs coach and Merrillville grad Gregg Popovich told The Nation magazine Monday that President Donald Trump is “a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others” in response to Trump’s comment Monday that former President Barack Obama and other commanders-in-in chief “didn’t make calls” to families of fallen soldiers.

Eric Gay, file, Associated Press

I like Gregg Popovich.

I've known him for years. As teenagers, we played basketball at the Griffith outdoor courts without ever meeting.

He was feisty then, even more so now.

Pop has coached the Spurs to five NBA championships and is a certain Hall of Famer when he hangs up his whistle and clipboard.

With both of us being self-proclaimed "Region Rats," we developed a nice friendship over the years, which isn't easy with someone who is very private and hates grandstanding and publicity.

That's why I'm so confused.

Pop has stepped, no, leaped outside his comfort zone this year. He's in the news again and it has nothing to do with the NBA.

No other individual in professional sports is as quick to publicly address social injustice — or has the nerve to — as this Indiana Harbor native.

Pop's never been afraid to voice his concerns about President Donald Trump and in Pop's latest outburst labeled him a "soulless coward.”

Popovich, a 1970 graduate of the Air Force Academy who served five years, criticized Trump when he accused his predecessors of failing to call the families of fallen soldiers.

On Monday, while defending his slow response to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, Trump said: "If you look at President Obama, and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I am able to do it."

That was enough for Pop to hop on his soap box at the Spurs' training facility.

"(Trump's) comments (Monday) about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and (President George) Bush never contacted their families, is so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words," Popovich said as the cameras rolled.

He continued: "This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks he can only become large by belittling others. This has been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner — and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers — is as low as it gets."

San Antonio's population is 63 percent Hispanic, according to several web sites. There is some poverty, crime and unemployment, but Pop's Spurs are fully committed to the community and have made its youth their focus year-around.

Basketball is merely a game, he says all the time, but life is about surviving and being treated fairly.

I told him once he should enter politics when he retires and he laughed, saying he'd get into too much trouble speaking the truth.

The platform is too big for him to step down.

Pop wasn't finished with Monday's rant and later called a writer at The Nation.

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness,” Popovich said.

“We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day and yet they choose to do nothing about it."

We shouldn't be surprised. Pop has always been for the underdog. But has he gone too far in his scathing criticism of the president, or does he see it as his patriotic duty?

Strangely, each time I write about Pop standing up for someone, I get nasty emails from local readers who've grown tired of his crusading.

They say he should stick to coaching.

Don't expect Pop to back off. The Spurs play the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday night.

And the cameras will be rolling once again.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.