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Gregg Popovich snaps at reporter, pretends Team USA didn’t used to blow out Australia and Nigeria

Team USA has never lost an exhibition game with NBA players then won a gold, or even silver, medal.

In 2004, the United States lost an exhibition to Italy then finished a disastrous third in the Athens Olympics. In 2019, the Americans lost an exhibition to Australia then finished seventh in the FIBA World Cup – their worst-ever showing in a major tournament.

So, two exhibition losses – to Nigeria and Australia – in the last few days are alarming as Team USA prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.

USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich sounds particularly frustrated.

As Popovich and Damian Lillard appeared together at a press conference following the loss to Australia, Joe Vardon of the The Athletic asked: “Damian, I know that Coach has been preaching this, about how much better the rest of the world has gotten over the years. But, in this being your first Team USA experience in the Olympics, that sort of thing, what’s it like for you to have watched your colleagues go through some of these tournaments and blow these teams out and now you are kind of experiencing a much-different, much-closer, tougher experience?”

After Lillard answered, Popovich and Vardon had a testy exchange:

  • Popovich: “Let me also answer that question. You know, you’ve asked the same sort of question, the same family of question, last time, where you you assume things that are not true. When you just mentioned blowing these teams out, that’s never happened. So, I don’t know where you get that.”
  • Vardon: “Your average –"
  • Popovich: “Can I finish?”
  • Vardon: “No, I mean –"
  • Popovich: “Can I finish?”
  • Vardon: “You’re saying that’s not true. Your average margin of –"
  • Popovich: “Can I finish my statement?”
  • Vardon: "…30 point a game in those last two tournaments.”
  • Popovich: “Can I finish my statement?”
  • Vardon: “You just told me that it’s not true. I’m telling you your average margin –"
  • Popovich: “Are you going to let me finish my statement or not? So, you’ll be quiet now while I talk, and then I’ll listen to you. When you make statements about, in the past just blowing out these other teams, number one, you give no respect to the other teams, and I talked to you last time about the same thing. We’ve had very close games against four or five countries in all these tournaments. So, the good teams do not get blown out. There are certain games that might happen in one of the tournaments in the world championship and the Olympics where somebody gets blown out. But, in general, nobody is blowing anybody out for the good teams. So, when you make a statement like that, it’s like you assume that’s what’s going on. And that’s incorrect.”

I have no idea what Popovich is talking about.

The U.S. has played Nigeria twice, winning by 83 in the 2012 Olympics and by 36 in a 2016 exhibition.

Before losing that Popovich-coached 2019 exhibition, Team USA was 11-0 with NBA players against Australia in the Olympics, World Cup (previously called World Championship) and exhibitions. All 11 games were decided by double digits and had an average margin of 29.

The Americans used to routinely rout teams like this.

Vardon is also doing the opposite of disrespecting those other teams – at least their current editions. He pointed out that the the United States’ opponents have closed the gap. That’s crediting them.

Maybe the U.S. will be fine by Tokyo. Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – playing in the NBA Finals – haven’t yet joined the roster.

But Popovich’s misguided crankiness sure isn’t encouraging about the state of Team USA.