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Books & Culture

American Soulless Cowards for China

NBA’s Steve Kerr, Adam Silver, and Greg Popovich play defense for Beijing’s totalitarian regime.


- October 14th, 2019
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When Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” Communist China called a foul. Down came the tweet and Chinese state television axed two NBA exhibition games. NBA boss Adam Silver promptly announced, “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.” Silver also barred NBA players then in China from speaking to the media.

For observers far and wide, particularly in embattled Hong Kong, it was a clear exhibition of China’s totalitarianism and a clear case of the NBA cowardly caving to China’s Communist dictatorship.

In the political, entertainment, and even the sports commentariat, many made that charge, but Golden State Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said he had no comment on the “really bizarre international story,” and “a lot of us don’t know what to make of it.” It was a strange response for someone with firsthand knowledge of oppression and violence.

An NBA champion as a player and coach, Steve Kerr is the son of Malcolm Kerr, whose parents Stanley and Elsa arrived in the Middle East in 1919 to join relief efforts that followed the Armenian genocide. As Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee recalled, in the early 1980s Malcolm Kerr left UCLA to become president of the American University of Beirut, “despite increasing political instability within the region.” Then, in 1984, Malcolm Kerr “was shot to death by terrorists outside his office.”

As a writer for ESPN noted, “two Islamic terrorists ambushed Malcolm outside his university office and shot him in the back of the head for the crime of being an American.” When the Islamic terrorists gunned down his father, Steve was only 18 and a freshman at the University of Arizona. Kerr wept through a moment of silence for his father prior to tipoff against archrival Arizona State.

Four years later, as Kerr and his teammates warmed up before a game with that same school, a group of 10-15 people began chanting “PLO! PLO!” The group also chanted, “Your father’s history” and “Why don’t you join the Marines and go back to Beirut?” As Kerr told Tracy Dodds of the Los Angeles Times, it was “pretty disgusting. It’s hard to believe that people would do that.”

In 1989, when pro-democracy Chinese students protested in Tiananmen Square, the regime deployed massive military force to crush the peaceful demonstration. For the Chinese regime, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are bourgeois formalities to be quashed by any means necessary. Kerr’s fans will find it hard to dig up anything he might have said against the regime, and he won’t comment on the “bizarre international story” of the pro-freedom tweet takedown.

Double-Teaming for Tyranny

In that cause, Kerr forms a double-team with San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich, also an NBA champion. Popovich said Silver’s pronouncement “helps you understand what direction you need to go in.” It was a curious statement for someone with experience in dealing with totalitarian governments.

Popovich majored in Soviet studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy and in the early 1970s served as an intelligence officer in eastern Turkey. In 1972, Popovich was cut from the U.S. Olympic basketball team. According to longtime colleagues, he never got over it. The United States won the gold medal game but officials put time back on the clock three times until the USSR scored. The USA victory was stolen but unlike Doug Collins, who made the free throws that won the game, Popovich has been rather quiet about that.

In similar style, if Popovich had concerns about human rights violations in the Eastern Bloc, he kept them to himself. The former intelligence officer was also quiet on the subject of terrorism. The massive terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, did not elicit passionate public statements from the Spurs coach. Neither did the 2009 atrocity just down the road at Ford Hood, Texas.

U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, a self-described “soldier of Allah,” gunned down 13 unarmed American soldiers and wounded more than 30 others. President Barack Obama called the massacre “workplace violence” at the time, which made it difficult for victims to get the medals and medical treatment they deserved. By all indications, President Obama never did anything with which Gregg Popovich disagreed. With President Trump, every play is out of bounds.

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others,” Popovich said in an October 2017 exclusive for The Nation. “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 so on.

With China’s Communist dictatorship, on the other hand, Adam Silver shows “the direction we need to go in.” Silver, Kerr, and Popovich play zone defense for Communist China. If anybody in California, Texas, or Hong Kong regarded this trio as soulless cowards, it would be hard to blame them.

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