As Colin Kaepernick still hopes for a National Football League return, he has a backer in Gregg Popovich.
The San Antonio Spurs and USA Basketball coach, a longtime admirer of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, praised Kaepernick's patriotism following a Team USA practice on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
"To negate that part of what we're able to do is ignorant on anybody's part who tries to make those people look unpatriotic," Popovich said in a scrum. "Like a Kaepernick. That was a very patriotic thing he did. He cared about his country enough to fix some things that were obvious, that everybody knows about but does nothing about."
Last week, the 31-year-old Kaepernick, who's been out of the NFL since 2016, indicated that he still wanted to play in the league.
Popovich, one of the league's most outspoken coaches when it comes to matters of social justice, had been asked about the atmosphere of divisiveness in the United States at this time and what exactly the concept of patriotism means to him.
"Patriotism means a lot of things to different people," Popovich said. "There's people who are truly committed in that sense and people who are fake. The show of patriotism I think is a bit inappropriate and that is not something that I think we want to emulate. Because someone hugs a flag doesn't mean they're patriotic. Being a patriot is somebody that respects their country and understands that the best thing about our country is that we have the ability to fix things that have not come to fruition for a lot of people so far."
The 70-year-old East Chicago, Ind. native also explained that one can be patriotic and still have room to criticize their country.
"All the promises in the beginning when the country was established is fantastic, but those goals have not been reached yet for a lot of people," Popovich said. "So you can still be patriotic and understand that there still needs to be criticism and changes and more attention paid to those who do not have what other people do have, and that's where we've fallen short in a lot of different ways. Being a critic of those inequalities does not make you a non-patriot. It's what makes America great, that you can say those things and attack those things to make them better. That's what a lot of other countries don't have. You lose your freedom when you do that."
The five-time NBA champion and three-time Coach of the Year was also asked about the comments made by Serbia head coach Sasha Djordjevic about a potential meeting between the two teams at next month's FIBA World Cup in China.
"Let’s let [Team USA] play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them," Djordjevic said in an interview with a Serbian television network.
Popovich played down the remarks.
"You'll have to ask Sasha," Popovich said. "I don't really pay attention too much. I've been doing this too long. But he's a hell of a coach. He's a competitor, and he's been a hero in Europe as a player. He was fantastic, and they have a program that goes way back with a lot of success. They do have a heck of a team. There is no doubt about that. They're deep and talented, and they are going to work their fannies off. They want to win just like anybody else. People will talk, but that is usually not something I respond to."
The US finds itself in Group E at the tournament alongside Turkey, Japan and the Czech Republic.
Popovich's team opens their World Cup on September 1 against the Czechs.