Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks during a post-game conference after playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chase Center on October 5, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).

Steve Kerr addresses Donald Trump and NBA-China rift

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr addresses the mocking comments of President Donald Trump

CHASE CENTER — Warriors head coach Steve Kerr didn’t know that President Donald Trump called him a “scared little boy” on Wednesday until a text message from Golden State vice president of communications Raymond Ridder interrupted an interview he was sitting for in the Chase Center. His phone was then inundated with messages about Trump.

Before he went to bed that night, Kerr couldn’t help but think of his first trip to the White House, before championships with the Bulls and Spurs, before his run with Golden State. Thirty-five years ago, he and his mother were invited into the Oval Office by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush after the assassination of Kerr’s father Malcolm.

In his first comments since he was mocked by President Trump for his comments on the NBA’s fraught relationship with China, Kerr addressed the office of the President, freedom of speech and his right to speak (or not) on whatever subjects he feels comfortable. He also regretted not riding into the press conference on a tricycle while wearing a propellor beanie.

“It was really surprising, mainly just because it was me,” Kerr said of Trump’s comments. “You stop and you think, ‘This is just another day.’ I was the shiny object yesterday, there’s another one today, there’ll be a new one tomorrow. The circus will go on. It’s strange. But, it happened.”

Trump mocked Kerr on Wednesday for giving a non-answer when asked about the blowback from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet last Friday, wherein he expressed his support for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which has had a complex relationship with mainland China for nearly 200 years.

Given the NBA’s decades-long effort to develop a lucrative market in China, initial responses from the NBA were less concerned with freedom of speech, and more with protecting a business relationship. Later, commissioner Adam Silver issued a strong statement in favor of freedom of expression, even at the expense of a business relationship. China moved quickly to sever many relationships with the league.

Kerr chose not to discuss the matter on Monday, and explained that stance on Thursday, before Golden State’s exhibition with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It is absolutely a tricky situation for all of us to be in,” said Kerr, whose two stars — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — have deep ties to China through their various sponsors. “I’ve been to China twice in the last two years, once with the Warriors and once with Team USA. Basketball is wildly popular over there, and so from my perspective, the NBA is doing a lot of great things, in terms of helping to unify people in the world. The game itself is a unifier, and I think that’s important.

“All of the sudden, that is meeting these political forces, and business forces and we are sort of thrust in the middle of it. Frankly, we don’t really know what to make of it. So, we’re here. We’re being asked about it. I have done a lot of research the last few days. I’ve learned more about what’s going on, on both sides, and one of the things I’ve learned is that this story has many vantage points, depending on where you’re looking from.

“For me to sit here and say, ‘I feel really comfortable making this statement,’ is not my place. Just like I wouldn’t make any comments on the tariff war. I don’t know anything about that. So, what’s going on in our country? I’m very comfortable talking about what’s going on in our country. I’m a citizen of this country.”

Kerr has long been an outspoken critic of gun violence and federal inaction on gun control, criticism which has brought him into conflict with Trump and much of the conservative movement.

Kerr is currently involved with, he figured, four or five different gun control advocacy groups. It’s his pet cause, given that his father Malcolm was shot by terrorists while serving as a visiting professor at American University of Beirut during Kerr’s freshman year at Arizona.

“President Reagan and Vice President Bush invited us into the oval office. They spent about half an hour with us, thanking us for my dad’s service — he was in education — thanking us for my dad’s commitment to trying to share American values in the Middle East, trying to promote peace in the Middle East, and all I could think of last night was the contrast of what has happened in 35 years,” Kerr said. “There was no regard for whose side you were on, politically, your political party or anything like that. It was just, ‘You’re an American.’”

Trump mocked both Kerr and another of his frequent critics on a variety of domestic issues, Kerr’s mentor Gregg Popovich, during a rambling address, wherein he addressed the NBA’s relationship with China, and said that both Kerr and Popovich were “pandering” to the Communist nation of 1.4 billion people.

“He couldn’t answer the question — he was shaking, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know,’” Trump said of Kerr. “He didn’t know how to answer the question, and yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.”

“The office held such dignity and respect, both from the people who were visiting and especially from the people who sat inside it,” Kerr said. “It’s just sad that it’s come crashing down, and that we are now living this. I realize that horse was out of the barn a long time ago on this, but for me personally, this was my experience with, ‘Wow, has the office sunken low,’ so my hope is that we can find a mature unifier from either party to sit in that chair and try to restore some dignity to the Oval Office again. I think it’ll happen.”

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