CNN  — 

US President Donald Trump has spoken for the first time about the escalating tensions between the NBA and China as he took aim at the coaches of the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.

Trump called Steve Kerr a “little boy” after the Warriors’ head coach, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s presidency, decided not to comment on the NBA’s standoff with China as it was “something he was reading about.”

“He couldn’t answer the question he was so scared, he was shaking,” added Trump, who also said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was “pandering to China.”

The league is facing a backlash from the country since Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. He subsequently deleted his “stand with Hong Kong” tweet.

All of the NBA’s official Chinese partners have now suspended ties with the league as it continues to grapple with the fallout.

After an initial league statement was criticized for being too beholden to the Chinese authorities, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to send the tweet in a statement Tuesday in Tokyo. He said that the league would not pursue profits over principles.

And speaking ahead of the Spurs and Miami Heat preseason game, Gregg Popovich praised Silver’s leadership and seemingly took aim at the President.

“He came out strongly for freedom of speech,” Popovich said to the media. “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.”

Gregg Popovich praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver but was critical of President Trump.

READ: Rockets scandal is forcing fans to choose between sport and country

Popovich ‘thrilled’ with Silver

Popovich added: “Adam [Silver] said something that helps you understand what direction you need to go in, rather than the cowardice of not being able to respond to something like the murder of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi.”

“There are many, many incidents like that where leadership and courage mean nothing. It’s all about personal aggrandizement. So I was thrilled.”

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a Washington Post columnist, was allegedly killed and dismembered on October 2, 2018, by men with close ties to the highest levels of the Saudi government.

Although the CIA concluded that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder, Trump signaled he would not take strong action against Saudi Arabia.

READ: Rockets scandal is forcing fans to choose between sport and country

Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, speaks out on china controversy.
NBA chief: Not going to apologize for Rockets GM's tweet
02:47 - Source: CNN Business

Trump’s angry response

On Wednesday after signing Executive Orders, Trump had his say on the NBA’s standoff with China.

After describing Kerr as a “little boy, Trump turned his attention to Popovich: “Sort of the same thing. But he didn’t look quite as scared, actually.

“But they talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China they didn’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad actually.”

When asked to clarify his own position on how the Chinese government is pressuring the NBA, Trump said they had to “work out their own situation.”

He continued: “I watched the way Kerr, Popovich, and some of the others who are pandering to China.”

“Yet to our own country they don’t, it’s like they don’t respect it.”