Donald Trump chastises 'little boy' Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich over NBA's China flap

It was only a matter of time.

President Donald Trump used the NBA’s ongoing China controversy to attack two of his biggest critics in the sports world on Wednesday, calling out Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

Trump, taking questions from media in the White House’s Roosevelt room after signing an executive order on transparency in federal guidance and enforcement, brought up the two coaches while discussing relations with China.

He was asked about whether he thinks China is wrong to pressure the NBA over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with China’s government.

He took the opportunity to immediately lay into Kerr.

‘He was like a little boy’

“I watch this guy Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy,” Trump said. “He was so scared to be even answering the question. He couldn’t answer the question, he was shaking. He didn’t know how to answer the question. He’ll talk about the United States very badly.”

He then set his sights on Popovich, but with a lighter touch.

“I watched Popovich, sort of the same thing,” Trump said. “But he didn’t look quite as scared, actually. But they talk badly about the United States. But when the talk’s about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually.”

Trump defending himself, not United States

There is legitimate criticism to be had of Kerr, Popovich and the NBA for their collective response to the China controversy.

This is not it.

Trump is a frequent target of criticism of both Kerr and Popovich, who often speak freely on social and political issues. They criticize what they see wrong in the United States on the fronts of gun control and police brutality, two hot-button political topics germane to Trump’s presidency.

Trump here is framing their criticism of himself and policies he supports as talking about the United States “very badly.” It’s a common tactic among certain government leaders to frame lack of support for themselves as a lack of patriotism or love of country. Trump uses it frequently.

In reality, Kerr and Popovich speak out of a place of concern for the state of the United States, not a lack of support of it.

32 PHOTOS
Gregg Popovich through his career
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Gregg Popovich through his career
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks to the media during a press conference after Game Four of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2017 AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (R) chats with Spurs guard Antonio Daniels during the team's practice at New York's Madison Square Garden, June 22. The Spurs lost Game Three of the 1999 NBA Finals to the New York Knicks 89-81 at the Garden on June 21, and now hold a 2-1 lead in the series with Game Four on June 23. MS/BM
San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich holds the NBA Championship trophy in the Spurs' locker room after the Spurs defeated the Knicks 78-77 in Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals to win the NBA Championship, June 25. The Spurs won the series four games to one. RFS/HB
San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich gets pulled back by assistant coaches Mike Budenholzer (L) and Hank Egan (C) after the Spurs were called with a second half foul during the Western Conference Playoffs Semifinal Round Game 2 at the Alamodome, May 7, 2001. Popovich was ejected from the game after receiving his second technical. AL/ME
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich yells at an official during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at the Alamodome in San Antonio, May 19, 2001. JM/SV
San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich (L) talks to guards Tony Parker (R) Steve Smith (C) during the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals May 5, 2002 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lakers defeated Popovich's Spurs 86-80, to take the first game of the seven game series. REUTERS/Mike Blake MB
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gestures on the sidelines during Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets in San Antonio, Texas June 15, 2003. REUTERS/Mike Blake RTW/GAC
Los Angeles Lakers fan and actor Jack Nicholson (R) reacts to a foul called against the Lakers as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich guides his team during Game 6 of their NBA Western Conference semifinal in Los Angeles May 15, 2004. [The Lakers lead the defending NBA Champions 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.]
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to the press during practice sessions at the 2005 NBA Finals in San Antonio, Texas, June 11, 2005. The Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons 84-69 in Game 1 and lead the best-of-seven series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for June 12. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell JM/MSF
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (L) talks to guard Manu Ginobili during a timeout in the first half against the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 of the 2005 NBA Finals in San Antonio, Texas June 12, 2005. The Spurs lead the best-of-seven series 1-0. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson JM/VP
Spurs head coach Popovich talks with Duncan on the bench near the end of Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Auburn Hills. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (R) talks with Tim Duncan (L) on the bench near the end of Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Auburn Hills, Michigan, June 16, 2005. Detroit beat San Antonio 102-71 to even the series two games each. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yells at official Bennett Salvatore to dispute a call during the fourth quarter of NBA play against the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis February 12, 2006. Popovich's Spurs won the game 92-88. REUTERS/Brent Smith
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich looks on as his team plays the Phoenix Suns during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semifinal basketball playoffs in San Antonio, Texas May 12, 2007. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell (UNITED STATES)
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smiles as he answers a question during media availability for their NBA Finals basketball series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland, Ohio, June 13, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts in the second half of Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff series against the Phoenix Suns in San Antonio, Texas May 9, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
San Antonio Spurs and Western conference head coach Gregg Popovich answers a question during media availability for the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston, Texas, February 15, 2013. The All-Star game will be played on February 17. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (R) speaks with player Tony Parker (C), who injured his hamstring during Game 3, as teammate Tim Duncan ties his shoelace during practice for their NBA Finals basketball playoff series against the Miami Heat in San Antonio, Texas June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich directs his team against the Miami Heat during the second quarter in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio, Texas, June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Jan 17, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts after being called for a technical foul during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich responds to questions from reporters during a news conference where he was named the NBA Coach of the Year at Spurs Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich during practice before game one of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 8, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts to ball during the second quarter against the Miami Heat in game two of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during a practice for their NBA Finals basketball series against the Miami Heat in San Antonio, Texas June 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Jun 10, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich speaks to the media prior to game three of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 18, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich waves to the fans during the NBA championship parade at San Antonio River Walk. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 18, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich speaks to the crowd during NBA championship celebrations at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver during a ceremony before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; NBA ESPN sideline reporter J.A. Adande interviews San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich during the second half against the Boston Celtics at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (left) reacts against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 121-97. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
May 11, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (R) after game six of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
May 11, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (14) and head coach Gregg Popovich (R) walk off the court after defeating the Houston Rockets in game six of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
SAN ANTONIO, TX - SEPTEMBER 25: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs poses for a head shot during media day in San Antonio, Texas at AT&T Center on September 25, 2017. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Trump reportedly promised China to keep silent

Meanwhile Trump, who reportedly promised Chinese President Xi Jinping silence on the Hong Kong issue, is painting them as un-American because of their hesitance to speak on the issue. And, of course, all of this is being discussed in the context of Trump defending himself and distracting from the impeachment inquiry against him.

Trump hammered the tactic home before moving on to answer other questions during his media conference.

“I watched the way that like Kerr, Popovich and some of the others were pandering to China,” Trump said. “And yet to our own country, it’s like they don’t respect it. It’s like they don’t respect it. I said what a difference. Isn’t it sad?”

Kerr had no comment on China

Trump’s comments come in response to Kerr and Popovich’s recent public takes on the NBA’s China controversy.

Kerr, who — as previously stated — is rarely shy to speak his mind, chose a lengthy no comment on Monday when asked his thoughts on the complex topic dealing with human rights, government oppression and the NBA’s initial response that appeared to favor the league’s financial interests in China over those concerns and Morey’s freedom to speak freely.

“Actually I don’t,” Kerr said when asked if he has thoughts on the controversy. “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 like everybody is, but I’m not gonna comment further.”

21 PHOTOS
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr
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Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr
Jun 4, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks at a press conference before game two of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
June 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr speaks to media following the 93-89 loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers following game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr watches from the sidelines during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 19: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors shouts to his team during their game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 19, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 05: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 5, 2017 in New York City. The Warriors defeated the Knicks 112-105. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 16: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks with his player Stephen Curry #30 during an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic at ORACLE Arena on March 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 16: Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks with the press after the game against the Portland Trail Blazers during the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2017 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors get ready before the game against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on February 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 6: Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks with Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 6, 2017 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Kevin Liles/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 4: Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors coaches against the Sacramento Kings on February 4, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 04: Head coach Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors talk with each other while there's a break in the action against the Sacramento Kings during an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on February 4, 2017 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 2: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors reacts from the bench during second half of the basketball game against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center February 2 2017, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 4: Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on February 4, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Apr 19, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on the sideline against the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors coaches Western Conference forward Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors (35) during the NBA All-Star Practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr walks onto the court before the game against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr is introduced during the NBA All-Star Practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr watches from the sidelines during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr reacts during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
May 28, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr (left) and assistant coach Luke Walton (right) react during the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 22, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr gestures towards the media before the start of the game against the Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
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Popovich praised Adam Silver for his response

Popovich spoke publicly on the issue for the first time Tuesday after NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement vowing not to regulate speech such as Morey’s.

Popovich’s response was limited to praising Silver’s progressive bonafides and his response regarding freedom of speech. He also took a swipe at Trump in the process, something the president surely took note of.

"He came out strongly for freedom of speech,” Popovich said. “I felt great again. He's been a heck of a leader in that respect and very courageous. Then you compare it to what we've had to live through the past three years, it's a big difference. A big gap there, leadership-wise and courage-wise.”

The NBA finds itself in an enormous high-stakes bind, and the league’s thought leaders like Kerr and Popovich find themselves in precarious positions in how to respond publicly.

Is there room for legitimate criticism of their public statements? Absolutely.

What Trump did was not that.

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Jason Owens is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter.

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