CLEVELAND — Cavaliers small forward LeBron James has a huge fan in San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who praised the four-time league MVP for his stellar play and social activism prior to the teams’ game Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena.
James, who entered Sunday averaging a triple-double in February (25.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 10.6 apg), has voiced his opinion on a number of social, racial and political issues, which recently led to Fox reporter Laura Ingraham saying he should “shut up and dribble.”
“It was an incredible show of arrogance for a talking head to tell someone else what they can speak about,” Popovich said. “It’s just ludicrous.”
The 33-year-old James, who has spoken against President Donald Trump while pledging approximately $40 million to put children who complete his “I Promise” program through college at the University of Akron, should keep tackling issues he feels strongly about, said Popovich, who also has criticized Trump and spoken out on a number of topics.
The 69-year-old coach went on to marvel at how James has handled himself, on the court and off, since entering the league at 18.
“Think about when he came into the public view,” Popovich said. “How young was he? To this day, he hasn’t missed a step. He hasn’t fallen off a ledge. He’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunities who haven’t had the same advantages of others.
“They see in this guy someone who has exhibited excellence in the workplace. It gives them a voice, lets them know you really can speak about anything. ... He’s very, very special. We should all be very proud we have someone like that.”
Popovich is an equally big fan of the way James plays basketball, especially given that he shows no signs of slowing down in his 15th season.
“He’s obviously quite unique, quite special,” Popovich said. “He’s done a great job taking care of himself. He loves it enough to do whatever he’s got to do to maintain that excellence.
“There’s a great respect (between us). It goes both ways. I love the guy.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is a big fan of Popovich, who is in his 22nd year as San Antonio’s coach and brought a 1,716-1,185 regular-season record into Sunday while winning five championships.
“You’re going to do it Pop’s way or you’re not going to do it at all,” Lue said. “That’s the biggest and best thing about that organization.
“No matter who’s on the floor, they always have a chance. That’s the great thing about having a great coach.”
Spurs All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard has played in just nine games this season and none since Jan. 13 due to a quadriceps injury. Spurs doctors and trainers have cleared him to play, but Leonard has said the pain is too great.
San Antonio, which doesn’t expect Leonard to play the rest of the season, no longer lists the 26-year-old with an injury in its game notes, saying instead he’s sidelined due to “injury management.”
In his nine games, Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists, well below the 25.5, 5.8 and 3.5 the two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2015-16, 2014-15) put up last season.
Home sweet home
Sunday began a season-long five-game home stretch for the Cavs, who will host Brooklyn on Tuesday, Philadelphia on Thursday, Denver on Saturday and Detroit on March 5.
That group doesn’t exactly represent a murderers’ row of opponents, so Cleveland could put together a nice stretch.
“We’ll measure against ourselves,” Lue said. “Just get better every night. No matter who the opponent, we’ll try to get better offensively and defensively.”
Trade deadline acquisitions George Hill (18), Larry Nance Jr. (15), Jordan Clarkson (14) and Rodney Hood (10) combined for 57 points Friday in Memphis. In their four games with the Cavs prior to Sunday, they averaged a combined 45.9 points.
The 31-year-old Hill played with the Spurs early in his career, and Popovich likes the veteran’s professionalism.
“He brings just a totally selfless type of game,” Popovich said. “He’s a great teammate. He’ll do whatever he has to do to win.”
- In addition to Leonard, the Spurs played without swingman Manu Ginobili (bruised sternum).
- Former Cavs guard Danny Green returned to action for San Antonio after missing one game due to illness.
- The Cavs bench entered Sunday averaging a franchise-record 41.8 points.