Gregg Popovich congratulates American sprinter John Carlos before Hall of Fame induction

Spurs coach says famed Olympian is 'long overdue' for recognition

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shared a portion of the contents of a congratulatory note sent recently to American sprinter John Carlos, who will be inducted Friday along with Tommie Smith into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Carlos and Smith will be inducted into the Hall more than 50 years after raising their fists in protest of racism at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City.

“I actually used the word ‘long overdue’,” Popovich said he wrote in the note.

“Then I gave him a little bit of crap on the side. But to see it just brought a great smile, not just to my face, but our coaches and the players who were here when he came in and talked to him. He’s a special guy.”

Carlos and Smith created one of the most enduring images of the civil rights movement with their silent protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The moment resulted in a national firestorm after Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand after they captured first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter final.

Carlos visited the Spurs back in 2015 to share his story with the team.

“I communicated to Dr. John [Carlos] because he has been kind enough to come in and talk to our team in the past, and we have kept up a pretty good relationship,” Popovich said. “He’s somebody who has suffered a great deal, and it just seems like it always takes those kinds of acts that he and Tommie Smith participated in to make social activism get to the point where something actually happens because people who are in their comfortable positions — white people — don’t really get it.”

Carlos’ and Smith’s protest came with harsh repercussions, as the two received death threats and widespread condemnation from the public back home in America. The U.S. track and field team suspended both and sent them home from the Olympics. They were vilified for several years, and experienced homelessness and unemployment as a result of their protest at the Olympics.

“It’s always, ‘In time, it will come,’ ” Popovich added. “And they have no feeling for what a person of color experiences on a minute-to-minute basis; not just physically but psychologically, opportunity-wise, all that sort of thing. So, for them to do what they did, knowing full-well, being intelligent people, that it was going to limit their opportunities for the rest of their lives probably, and they did it anyway … that’s huge. That’s like a Muhammad Ali moment, what they did. Great credit, which isn’t what they were looking for, but kudos for great courage and being able to do that under ridiculously difficult circumstances.”

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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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