San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has never been afraid to speak his mind, but he usually saves those thoughts for his press conferences before and after the games. He couldn't wait on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, and took the mic mid-game to ask Spurs fans to stop booing Kawhi Leonard.
"Anybody that knows anything about sports. You don't poke the bear," Popovich said post-game when asked for an explanation. He declined to expound after a follow-up. "I spoke English, I just told ya. Anybody that knows anything about sports knows that you don't poke the bear."
With 3:06 remaining in the second quarter, and Leonard standing at the free throw line, Popovich walked over to the scorer's table and assumed control of the public address system.
"Excuse me for a second," Popovich said. "Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play. It's got no class, it's not who we are. Knock off the booing."
Per ESPN reporter Andrew Lopez, Popovich's pleas didn't work. The boos only intensified, as the Spurs fans showed their displeasure with Leonard back in town.
"I thought that was an awesome moment, despite the fans booing, I think, even more," Paul George said. "I think that was a hell of a moment, Pop having Kawhi's back in that situation."
Leonard, of course, spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Spurs, and was named NBA Finals MVP in 2014 after the Spurs won their last title. But despite his success with the franchise, which included winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016, his strange departure has turned him into a villain in San Antonio.
He only played nine games in 2017-18 due to a quadriceps injury, though there was a dispute between him and the team's medical staff, which had cleared him to return. The next summer Leonard requested a trade and was eventually sent to the Toronto raptors along with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick that became Keldon Johnson.
This was Leonard's 14th game back in San Antonio, and he has been booed there before, so it's unclear why Popovich decided this time was enough. Many in the arena looked perplexed in the moment, including some of the players, and for good reason as we've never seen anything like that before in a game.
Leonard, for his part, had no problem with the boos.
"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 some 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."