U.S. President Donald Trump waded into the ongoing tension between the NBA and China on Wednesday.
However, instead of directly responding to a question on whether China was wrong to apply pressure to the NBA through measures such as canceled broadcasts and business partnerships, Trump took aim at two of his most frequent critics from the world of professional basketball: Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy," Trump said during the press pool period. "He was so scared to even be answering the question. ... He was shaking. 'I don't know, I don't know,' he didn't know how to answer the question. And yet he'll talk about the United States very badly.
"I watched Popovich - sort of the same thing, but he didn't look quite as scared, actually. But they talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don't want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually."
Kerr, a long-standing detractor of Trump and someone who often speaks out on social and political issues well beyond the scope of the league, was atypically mum about China's friction with the NBA.
"Actually, I don't (have any thoughts on the situation)," Kerr said Monday, according to The Athletic's Anthony Slater. "I mean, it's a really bizarre international story. A lot of us don't know what to make of it. It's something I'm reading about just like everybody is, but I'm not going to comment further than that."
Kerr added that he preferred to speak about issues he's well-versed on and that he reached out to his brother-in-law, a Chinese history professor, to better inform himself about the issues at hand.
Popovich, who coached Team USA at last month's FIBA World Cup in China, praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver's statement on the situation, which reiterated that the "values of equality, respect, and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA," and that the league's stance "is about far more than growing our business."
"It wasn't easy for him to say," Popovich said Tuesday, according to WPLG's Will Manso. "He said that in an environment fraught with possible economic peril but he sided with the principals we all hold dearly. Or most of us did, until the last three years."
As for Trump, the commander-in-chief vowed that his administration wouldn't intervene in the matter - a stark contrast to how his cohort appeared to play a direct role in the last high-profile international incident featuring American basketball players in China, when three UCLA players, including LiAngelo Ball, were arrested for shoplifting in 2017.
"They have to work out their own situation," Trump said Wednesday. "The NBA, they know what they're doing.
"But I watch the way that Kerr, Popovich, and some of the others were pandering to China, and yet to our own country, it's like they don't respect it."
- with h/t to CNN's Daniel Dale