Spurs coach Gregg Popovich chastises home fans for booing Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers
By Raul Dominguez
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich grabbed the microphone and chastised the crowd at the Frost Bank Center on Wednesday night, telling fans to stop booing former Spurs All-Star Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Excuse me for a second,” Popovich said, silencing the crowd late in the first half. “Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? Have a little class. It’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”
Leonard had 24 points as the Clippers beat San Antonio 109-102 on Wednesday night, handing the Spurs their 10th straight loss.
“I thought that was an awesome moment, despite the fans booing, I think, even more,” Clippers star Paul George said. “I think that was a hell of a moment, Pop having Kawhi’s back in that situation.”
Leonard has been jeered by Spurs fans since he demanded a trade and was dealt from San Antonio to the Toronto Raptors on July 18, 2018.
Leonard became the Spurs’ best player as the Big Three era of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili was ending. The forward was voted NBA Finals MVP after the Spurs’ final championship in 2014.
“It’s bittersweet in Kawhi’s situation,” George said. “He’s hung championship banners here and been a part of winning teams. Regardless of the situation, this sucks to give an organization something and a city something and for that to be, at this point, the treatment you still get. It’s unfortunate but that’s what makes sports, sports.”
Fans booed as Leonard stood at the free throw line following a foul by Spurs forward Keldon Johnson with 3:08 remaining in the first half. Popovich then walked over and grabbed the public address microphone.
Popovich was asked afterward what his intended message was to the crowd.
“Well, I think anybody that knows anything about sports, you don’t poke the bear,” Popovich said.
When asked if he didn’t want the booing to motivate Leonard, Popovich repeated his answer.
“I spoke English,” Popovich said. “I just told you, anybody that knows anything about sports knows you don’t poke the bear. That’s my answer.”
After an initial stunned silence following Popovich’s words over the P.A., the crowd began booing even louder in response. Leonard would face a cascade of more vociferous jeers but made both free throws.
The booing continued each time Leonard touched the ball and extended to James Harden and other players from the Clippers.
“If I don’t have a Spurs jersey on, they are probably going to boo me for the rest of my career,” Leonard said. “It is what it is. They are one of the best fans in the league and they are very competitive. Once I stand on this basketball court out here, they are going to show that they are going for the other side. When I’m on the streets or going into a restaurant, they show love. It is what it is.”
Fans showered Leonard with thunderous jeers in his initial return to San Antonio following his trade to Toronto. The booing has lessened over the years with some fans cheering when he was announced at last year’s game.
Leonard said after Monday night’s game, which the Clippers won 124-99 to extend the Spurs’ losing streak to nine, that he heard some cheers.
“I mean, it was a little bit 50-50 tonight,” Leonard said. “I heard some cheers and some boos. But like I’ve said before, it’s a competitive fan base. They want to win every game, so once I come to the game, there’s going to be some boos. But walking around in the city, or restaurants, they show love.”
Popovich’s actions were reminiscent of former Indiana Hoosiers coach Bobby Knight taking to the microphone to berate fans for their actions during their matchup with Michigan State on Jan. 21, 1989.
“I don’t care what the quality of the officiating is, we don’t throw things in here,” Knight said.