Well before the liberal imagination began fever dreaming of Oprah in the Oval Office, and Cynthia Nixon announced her candidacy for the governor’s mansion, the progressive wing of the sports world spent much of the past year half joking, and half not, that NBA coaches Gregg Popovich, of the San Antonio Spurs, and Steve Kerr, from the Golden State Warriors, should become the next celebrity politicians and run on a Popovich-Kerr ticket in 2020. While the NBA’s players have led the league’s charge on social and political issues, Kerr and Popovich have become particularly outspoken since President Trump’s election. The coaches have a history together — Kerr played 15 seasons in the NBA, including three with Popovich as his coach — and each has a personal story worthy of a campaign bio: Popovich served in the Air Force for five years; Kerr spent time in the Middle East as a child, and his father, Malcolm, was murdered by terrorists in Beirut. They’d likely run as Democrats, unless they formed their own party under a banner coined by Kerr: The Coalition of Citizens Who Are Calling Bullshit.
Kerr and Popovich have both demurred about making an actual run. But they’ve made more than enough comments during pre- and post-game interviews over the past two years to fill out the vague declarations required of a campaign platform: “Returning Decency to Politics,” “Reengaging the World,” “Implementing Sensible Gun Control.” The coaches themselves are busy preparing for the NBA playoffs — their respective teams face each other in the first round, which starts tomorrow — but we wondered what their collected political commentary would look like molded into a campaign stump speech. To that end, we’ve condensed, combined, and lightly edited comments made by Kerr and Popovich, respectively, into speeches ready for the trail.
[Kerr thanks crowd at campaign rally in Orlando, Florida.]
Vice-presidential candidate Steve Kerr:
I believe I was here three months and I scored a total of 12 points. Sean Spicer would be talking about my Orlando Magic career — 14,000 points, greatest player in Magic history. I was a star.
[Wait for laughter]
These are not ordinary times. Probably the most divisive times in my life. There’s absolutely an assault on our institutions and on our core values as a country. That’s the entire reasoning behind the structure of our government — checks and balances. But it goes beyond the checks and balances. It’s up to the citizens … to ‘We the People.’ It’s not ‘We the President and Congress.’
So, who’s the People? You and I are the People. We all are. Steph and Draymond and KD. If you have a voice, you’ve got to use it. We have these institutions in place to protect us from ourselves, and so the institutions have to win out. The only way that’s going to happen is if we keep calling bullshit, so that’s my approach — join the coalition that’s calling bullshit: The Coalition of Citizens Who Are Calling Bullshit.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet President Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. I didn’t agree with all of them, but it was easy to set politics aside because each possessed an inherent respect for the office. Watching the last debate, Trump would make a crack at Clinton and you could hear the fans in the stands: ‘Ohhh, no he didn’t.’ This is a presidential election. It’s not The Jerry Springer Show. I thought we were better than this.
I’m 52, and this is the scariest the world has ever felt. Our foreign relations have never been worse. The way the world works now, anybody can just tweet hatred. Trump’s rhetoric is exacerbating everything. But I don’t really think it falls on Trump’s shoulders. Our foreign policy over the last 50, 60 years has led to this point. To use Colin Powell’s line, ‘If you break it, you own it.’ And now we own it.
My background has everything to do with my perspective on the world. It’s an American story, something I’m very proud of. My grandparents settled in Beirut after World War I. They had a really great history of running an orphanage for Armenian children during the Armenian Holocaust. They loved Beirut so much they settled there, and ended up working at the American University. My dad was born there. We spent three years in Cairo, a year in France, a summer in Tunisia. Americans were really helping around the world, and one of the reasons we were beloved was the amount of help we provided. We were the good guys. And I think we still are in a lot of places. But people are wondering what the hell happened to us.
One of the great blessings of my life is to have been raised overseas in different cultures with different people, and then being in the NBA for 29 years. It’s a multicultural melting pot. Just on our own team, we’ve got people from the Republic of Georgia and Israel. We’ve got Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who grew up in NBA families. We’ve got guys who came from really difficult backgrounds. As a coach, you have to figure out how you connect with each player, and how does that all form as a group. You’ve got to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.
My old coach, Gregg Popovich, has one of the great sayings I’ve ever heard: We are all just an accident of birth. We’re born black, we’re born white, we’re born poor or rich. And it’s so important to understand who the other person is and where they came from. The more you can learn about that person, the easier it is to get out of that silo and understand that there’s nuance to everything. It’s really simple to demonize Muslims because of our anger over 9/11, but the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, just like the vast majority of Christians and Buddhists and Jews. What if you were a Latino in Arizona, with the law that was enacted in 2010, where you can be arrested if you don’t present proper identification? That law has been deemed constitutionally unlawful, so there’s some change there, but different races are treated differently by the authorities, and some of it is based on law.
I just have to get this off my chest: Our government is insane. We are insane. We’re getting people murdered every day at an alarming rate. Unarmed black people are being killed indiscriminately around the country. As somebody who has had a family member shot and killed, it just devastates me every time I read about this stuff, like what happened in Orlando. You understand how much they are suffering, just like how our family went through that suffering. All of those statistics have names, and these names have faces. They are people who are now lost. How many times do we have to go through this — the depressing ritual of mass murder in America?
Our government has to lead the way. Ninety percent of our country wants background checks on gun purchases and we’ve got our Senate and our House using the Bill of Rights as a reason for people to carry automatic weapons. That was back in 1776. People didn’t own automatic rifles. You had to have a musket in case the Redcoats were coming! We don’t have to take away people’s second-amendment rights. We just need some common sense.
There are a lot of fans out there that say, ‘Stick to sports.’ I understand that. I wasn’t that outspoken ten years ago. But this is a time when people are speaking out. We live in an amazing country, but it’s a flawed one. Please spare me the ‘If you don’t like it, you can get out’ argument. I love my country. But it’s important to recognize that we as a nation are far from perfect, and it’s our responsibility to try to make it better.
[Holds up “Popovich Kerr 2020” shirt]
When these shirts came about, we were laughing about it, and I told Pop, ‘If we do it, I’ll take care of California, but you’ll have to take care of Texas.’
Pop is one of the finest people I know. He’s incredibly principled. He’s competitive. He’s compassionate. He’s smart. He’s worldly. He’s fair. His military background has really shaped him. You felt all that as a coach, and now you see his conviction about the world and politics. He would make a great president. More than anything, I value him as a great friend and somebody I admire. I would vote for Pop. I will campaign for Pop. Let’s be better. Love and peace to everyone.
[Popovich joins Kerr onstage. They bro hug. Popovich takes the microphone.]
Presidential Candidate Gregg Popovich:
Usually, things happen in the world, and you go to work, and you got your family, and you got your friends, and you do what you do. But to this day I feel like there’s a cloud — a pall — over the whole country. We’re all trying to just exist and survive.
My big fear is … we are Rome.
That’s my real fear. That’s what gives me so much pause — that the country is willing to be that intolerant, and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other groups’ situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African-American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person, how disenfranchised they might feel. What do we do to not allow this to happen again?
It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself, and it’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. 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.
The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Kasich, who I disagree with on a lot of political things, had enough fiber and respect for humanity and tolerance for all groups to say what they said about the man during the election. But now it seems like it’s condoned. I’m more worried and confused by the people around our president. This is their shame most of all.
[Wait for applause]
I’m not done. One could go on and on. Where does the morality and decency kick in? All of those values to me are more important than anybody’s skill in business or anything else because it tells who we are, and how we want to live, and what kind of people we are.
I grew up in an integrated area. We lived in a project called Sunnyside. Everyone had jobs in the steel mill. There was a Puerto Rican family, a black family, a Czechoslovakian family, a Serbian family. Everybody was fine because everybody had a job. It kind of does boil down to that. If you’re disenfranchised — you got no job, you got no hope, you got nothing — bad things are going to start to happen. When you talk about opportunity, it’s not about, ‘Well, if you lace up your shoes and you work hard, then you can have the American dream.’ That’s a bunch of hogwash.
Race is the elephant in the room, and unless it is talked about constantly, it is not going to get better. The national stain of slavery continues to permeate our social system. It was hard and disgusting and humiliating and life-defeating. It is our national sin. If you were born white, you automatically have a monstrous advantage educationally, economically, culturally in this society.
What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities. Understanding and empathy has to trump — no pun intended — any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature.
We know that most of the police are just trying to do their job, which is very difficult. Part of that in our country is exacerbated by the preponderance of guns that other countries don’t have to deal with— I’d be scared to death if I was a policeman and I stopped a car. But I also didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. People come out with, ‘Do we have to talk about race again?’ And the answer is, ‘You’re damned right we do.’ Because it’s always there, and it’s systemic.
There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it is the LGBT movement, women’s suffrage, race — doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable. Especially white people. We still have no clue of what being born white means. It’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically rare, and they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it that way. People don’t want to give that up. Until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.
In today’s environment, one can talk a good game about ‘We need this,’ or ‘We need that.’ But talk is just talk. At some point, there’s got to be follow-through.
So, we have 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 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.
Win the championship? It’s not a priority in my life. It’s basketball. It’s pick-and-roll. It’s not the Middle East peace process. It’s not figuring out why our democracy is being eroded. I’d be much happier if I knew that my players were going to make society better, had good families, took care of the people around them. I’d get more satisfaction out of that than a title. We have to want more than success in our jobs. That’s why we’re here. I just want you to be happy.