Gregg Popovich delivers stirring statement as Spurs focus on race

How San Antonio adjusted organizational priorities to elevate voices

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright NBA.com

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Jun 6, 2020 7:55 PM ET

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hasn't been shy to speak up about injustice. Or challenging others to find their voice.

SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich cut straight to the root of why he believes our country is in trouble:

“The basic reason is race.”

In an emotional video released Saturday by the San Antonio Spurs as part of their #SpursVoices series on social media, Popovich called for white citizens around the country to “speak truth to power” and call out racial injustices no matter the consequence.

“We have to speak. We have to not let anything go,” he said. “Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years. The only reason this nation has made the progress it has is because of the persistence, patience, and effort of the black people. The history of our nation from the very beginning in many ways was a lie. We continue to this day, mostly black and brown people, to try to make that lie a truth so that it’s no longer a lie, and those rights and privileges are enjoyed by people of color just like we enjoy them.”

 
Gregg Popovich explains why white people must call out racism, 'no matter what the consequences.'

Popovich’s stirring words come as the organization works to “facilitate a conversation across our communities,” Spurs CEO R.C. Buford told NBA.com on Saturday. Their goal is to use this as a tipping point for an organizational commitment toward “actively engaging in purposeful, change-focused programming.”

The organization plans to continue publishing its #SpursVoices series across their 26 digital platforms through next week.

In the past, the Spurs had never made an organizational decision to focus its priorities on matters regarding race. That quickly changed in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, forced his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during an incident caught on video by a bystander. The officer now faces second-degree charges for murder and manslaughter, while the other three officers involved in Floyd’s death were charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

“It’s almost, in a strange, counterintuitive sort of way, the best teaching moment of this most recent tragedy I think was the look on the officer’s face,” Popovich explained in Saturday’s #SpursVoices video. “For white people to see how nonchalant, how casual, how just every day going about his job so much so that he could just put his left hand in his pocket, wriggle his knee around a little bit to teach this person some sort of a lesson, and it was his right and his duty to do it, in his mind.

“I don’t know. I think I’m just embarrassed as a white person to know that could happen; to actually watch a lynching. We’ve all seen books. You look in the books, and you see black people hanging in trees. You are amazed. We just saw it again. I never thought I’d see that with my own eyes in real time.”

The only reason this nation has made the progress it has is because of the persistence, patience, and effort of the black people.

Gregg Popovich

As protests condemning police brutality broke out around the country, and locally in San Antonio, a team of Spurs executives started a lengthy email exchange Saturday night that led to meetings lasting late into Sunday. The club reckoned with how to proceed, knowing it needed to take an impactful organizational stance. As the executives brainstormed into the night, Brandon James, their vice-president of basketball administration and deputy general counsel, came up with the idea to put together the #SpursVoices series.

But before the organization decided to lend a hand to the outside world, it first wanted to address matters internally. In the past, the Spurs had engaged the players on numerous occasions by bringing in various speakers such as Michael Eric Dyson and John Carlos to speak with the team. This time, the executives wanted to engage the entire organization.

On Monday morning, the Spurs called an internal townhall on a video conference that swelled to more than 300 staffers, including Popovich, Buford, James and general manager Brian Wright, as well as Spurs Sports & Entertainment Chairman Peter J. Holt. The emotional meeting lasted nearly three hours and gave various staffers -- ranging from security guards to staff in the ticket office -- the opportunity to share their personal stories involving experiences with racism.

The club also consulted with various experts in fields regarding matters of race, including Dr. Richard Lapchick, founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sport. A natural connection already existed with Lapchick; he mentored Wright while the Spurs executive worked toward a master’s degree in sports business management from the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.

The executives emerged from Monday’s meeting shaken by what the staffers had shared. 

“In the last week I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to the voices of members of our organization,” Holt said in a  #SpursVoices video published June 5. “The anger, the pain, exhaustion and sadness I heard in these impactful stories was agonizing and heart-wrenching. It shook me to my core.

“I fully recognize that I’m a white male. On top of that, I was born into a privileged name and a wealthy family. My family always pushed me to be educated and knowledgeable, especially in regard to our society, our history, culture, and just overall humanity. I have been blessed in my life to experience many different people and places. I’ve been blessed to have relationships with incredible and amazing people of different races, religions, ethnicities, backgrounds, places of origin. Because of this, I thought I understood race. I now fully realize that I do not understand. I must listen and learn now more than ever.

“As an organization,” he continued. “We believe we can do more to help address the systemic racism in our society, and we embrace this opportunity. Leadership is not defined by title and status. It is defined by purpose, behavior and action. We have incredibly strong and thoughtful leaders in every area of our Spurs family. I’m grateful for their willingness and courage to tackle this complex and important issue. I also know that I must do more. Together, we will put the full weight of our organization behind this critical effort.”

Holt made that decision in the wake of Monday’s meeting, believing the Spurs had a duty to work toward enact ing lasting change.

The #SpursVoices video series launched on Wednesday with the club posting multiple videos on its 26 digital platforms every day since. 

“We’re listening,” James said Wednesday, when the team’s video series first launched. “We’re pressing pause amidst all that’s going on to listen to our people; what they’re feeling, what they’re experiences have been, what we can do together to impact change.”  

Popovich stressed the need for white citizens to speak up if real change is to be achieved.

“It’s like the neighborhood where you know there’s a dangerous corner, and you know that something’s gonna happen someday and nobody does anything,” he said. “Then, a young kid gets killed and a stop sign goes up. Well, without getting too political, we’ve got a lot of stop signs that need to go up quickly.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him  here , find his archive  here  and follow him on  Twitter .

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