Over the years, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been miscast as something of a curmudgeon and borderline jackass for the curt manner that he conducts interviews and answers questions during press conferences.  

The way he would cut veteran courtside reporter Craig Sager short during mid-game interviews was the stuff buddy comedies are made of. But, aside from that, no one could question whether or not Pop was a smart guy.  Put it this way, the quasi-dynastic era the San Antonio Spurs have been enjoying over the years has as much to do with his decision-making as it does with Tim Duncan's play.    

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(Photo Credit: Sporting News)

The Colin Kaepernick-initiated protest has journalists who rarely ask questions about race asking folks who rarely talk about race, their thoughts on racial oppression and America's racial legacy.  As nauseating as it was watching closeted bigots across various American sports look down their noses at black pain, I never expected the Black Lives Matter conversation to spread any further than recent comments perhaps made by New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony in the NBA.

But here's some of what coach Pop had to say during Spurs' media day on Monday:  

  

"I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done. The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. [Martin Luther] King getting large groups together and boycotting buses, or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is to keep it in the conversation. When’s the last time you heard the name Michael Brown? With our 24/7 news, things seem to drift. We’re all trying to just exist and survive." 

"It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience," he continued. "It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with. It’s not just a rogue policeman, or a policeman exerting too much force or power, when we know that most of the police are just trying to do their job, which is very difficult. I’d be scared to death if I was a policeman and I stopped a car. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And part of that in our country is exacerbated by the preponderance of guns that other countries don’t have to deal with. It gets very complicated."  

As a steadfast fan of NBA basketball, and the San Antonio Spurs particularly, I was pleasantly surprised that Popovich didn't sidestep the question or simply glare at the reporter in disdain. But he stood tall and wise when others of shrank from the task of honesty and empathy.  He stuck out his chest instead of defaulting to something along the lines of "All Lives Matter." Plus, white guys rarely mention Mike Brown unprompted. So, props for that as well.

But there was more: 

"My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, and what they feel strongly about. Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions, and I’m not going to tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B and C, they’re going to be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant." 

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  (Photo Credit: Sporting News)

Coincidentally, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James weighed in on the matter of protesting the national anthem during Cavs media day.  While James said he would be standing for the national anthem, he added that he respects Colin Kaepernick's stance.  However, he followed that up with that "All Lives Matter" crap and I wanted to throw my cheese steak hoagie at the TV screen.  Lucky for my TV, it was too yummy.  

As the racial discourse continues in America, it is likely that people we love will disappoint us while others will amaze.  

But one thing is certain, only good things can come out from speaking candidly, thoughtfully and with empathy on race. Especially in professional sports.