SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — President Donald Trump leveled harsh criticism at Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr Wednesday in regards to the current strained relations between the NBA and Chinese leaders.
The chasm opened last week after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” in a tweet supporting the current demonstrations against the Chinese government in the streets of Hong Kong.
China denounced the tweet and the repercussions have included the cancellation of NBA preseason coverage on state-run CCTV.
Kerr has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s policies and has weighed in on many social issues during his tenure with the Warriors. However, Kerr did not offer much comment on Tuesday when asked whether he had some thoughts on the NBA/China situation.
“Actually I don’t,” Kerr said. “It’s a really bizarre international story. A lot of us don’t know what to make of it. It’s something I’m reading about like everybody is, but I’m not gonna comment further.”
During a Wednesday news conference, Trump saw an opportunity to fire back at Kerr after the Warriors coach received some criticism for not criticizing China’s stance on Hong Kong and the Chinese reaction to the tweet.
“I watch this guy Steve Kerr and he was like a little boy who is so scared to be even answering the question, he couldn’t answer the question,” Trump said. “He was shaking — ‘Uh I don’t know’ — He didn’t know how to handle the question and yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”
Warriors star player Stephen Curry weighed in on Trump’s remarks and defended his coach following the team’s practice Wednesday.
“I think with this one, it’s a league-wide situation and our presence in China, it’s just a different conversation,” said Curry. “Coach talks about gun violence and gender equality and things that for us as being spokespeople for people who can’t speak for themselves and our communities that make a huge impact. This situation has a huge weight and gravity to it and there are some things that need to be sorted out, but I just don’t know about Chinese history and how that’s influenced modern society and that interaction to speak on it.
Curry added, “Something this big that involves the entire landscape of the league and of course with a country like China, like that’s something you’re not walking into lightheartedly saying stuff off the cuff.”Raw Video: Stephen Curry Speaks To Reporters About Trump, NBA/China Flap
President Trump has criticized the Warriors in the past, especially after the team won the NBA title in 2017 and players balked at the customary White House visit with the newly-elected Trump in office.
Trump also took issue with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who voiced his support for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s defense of Morey’s free speech rights.
“[Silver has] been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we’ve had to live through the past three years, it’s a big difference,” Popovich said. “A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise.”
At the news conference, Trump said: “I watched Popovich, sort of the same thing but he didn’t look quite as scared actually. They talk badly about the United States but when the talk’s about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually.”
On Wednesday, the NBA called off scheduled media sessions for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai, and it remains unclear if the teams will play in China this week as scheduled.
The teams were practicing in Shanghai, where at least two other NBA events in advance of the start of the China games were canceled as part of the ongoing rift. “Given the fluidity of the situation, today’s media availability has been postponed,” the league said.
The fallout could also affect players such as Warriors forward Klay Thompson, who have shoe contracts with Chinese firm Anta.
An NBA Cares event in Shanghai that was to benefit Special Olympics was called off, as was a “fan night” celebration that was to be highlighted by the league announcing plans to refurbish some outdoor courts in that city. And workers in multiple spots around Shanghai were tearing down large outdoor promotional advertisements for Thursday’s Lakers-Nets game.
The teams are also supposed to play Saturday in Shenzhen. Silver met with players from both the Nets and Lakers on Wednesday in Shanghai, telling them that the league’s intention remains to play the games as scheduled.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.