In a unique moment during Wednesday night's NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and the LA Clippers, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took an unusual step to address the home crowd's behavior. As former Spurs player Kawhi Leonard stepped up to shoot free throws, the crowd's booing prompted Popovich to grab the PA announcer's microphone and make a plea for civility.
Popovich's intervention came after he spoke with crew chief Tyler Ford, signaling his concern about the atmosphere in the arena. "Excuse me for a second," he said to the crowd. "Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? Have a little class.
That's not who we are. Knock off the booing." This appeal for respect highlighted Popovich's ethos and the sportsmanship he expects from Spurs fans. Explaining his actions postgame, Popovich indicated he wanted to avoid giving Leonard any extra motivation.
He reiterated the sentiment, "don't poke the bear," emphasizing the potential consequences of antagonizing a player of Leonard's caliber.
The Game and Leonard's Response
Despite Popovich's request, the boos intensified, not just for Leonard but for the entire Clippers team, especially when James Harden approached the free throw line.
The Clippers secured a 109-102 victory, marking their seventh consecutive win over the Spurs. Leonard, who scored 18 of his 26 points after Popovich's address, later admitted he was focused on the game and not fully aware of the coach's actions until after the game.
"I was just in the moment trying to knock down my free throws," he said. Since his trade from the Spurs in 2018, Leonard has consistently faced booing from San Antonio fans upon his return, a reflection of the mixed feelings surrounding his departure.
However, Leonard expressed an understanding of the fans' reaction, acknowledging that he expects to be booed whenever he plays in San Antonio without a Spurs jersey. Despite the on-court rivalry, Leonard noted that Spurs fans show appreciation off the court, acknowledging their passion and competitiveness.
Popovich's move to address the crowd mid-game underlines the complex relationship between fans, players, and sportsmanship in professional basketball. As the Spurs and Clippers continue their rivalry, the interactions between Leonard and the San Antonio fans remain a poignant reminder of the deep emotional connections in the world of sports.