Gregg Popovich Supports USA Basketball Team’s Actions in Rout of Iran

Damien Lillard

Getty Damien Lillard of Team USA posed with Iran's Saeid Davarpanah after the U.S. downed Iran 120-66 on Wednesday in the Tokyo Olympic games.

After USA Basketball got back on track in the Olympics by rolling past Iran, head coach Gregg Popovich answered for his team displaying sportsmanship.

Popovich faced the question because of the USA’s nearly 60 years tensions with Iran in international relations, which includes war and nuclear talks. Washington D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations provides a timeline of the history between the two countries.

Team USA and Iran basketball players nonetheless displayed sportsmanship before and after the game amid the U.S. cruising to a 120-66 victory on Wednesday. That included the teams applauding each others’ national anthems, players shaking hands, and Popovich shaking hands with Iran head coach Mehran Shahintab according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. Players from the two teams even posed for pictures together after the game as USA guard Damien Lillard and Iran guard Saeid Davarpanah notably did that.

“Well I’m not the answer man, I’m not the Secretary of State or anything like that,” Popovich told the media on Wednesday.  “But in general, you know, I think people in different countries get along a whole lot better than their governments do.”

“You know, once you get to the politicians and that sort of thing, it becomes much more complicated with, you know, self-interest and ideologies and personal agendas,” Popovich added. “But the people generally get along, appreciate each other no matter what country you’re talking about. I really believe that , I’ve always believed that.”

Popovich also added that “the Olympics here, this is a venue in a time where sports transcends all that” and “we just wish that that was real life” instead.

Lillard: ‘It’s Not a Selfish Act’

Lillard, who led the U.S. in scoring with 21 points and took a team-high 13 three-pointers, doesn’t consider his high output as selfish amid a team of NBA all-star caliber players. No one else took more than nine shots.

He told the media it’s about “being who you are” on the court.

“And just trust in the fact that, you know, our teammates are going to understand that we’re just being us, it’s not a selfish act,” he added.

Lillard sees it as something that needed to change after the stunning 83-76 loss to France on July 25. The U.S. had balanced scoring with four players in double figures but blew double-digit leads twice.

“And I think everybody was worried about not wanting to look selfish or not look like they’re not throwing themselves into the team,” Lillard said after the win over Iran. “I think it showed with how guys were kind of hesitant, kind of passive and I think we are starting to figure out, you know, that being ourselves and doing what we do is what’s gonna work for us.”

Lillard said he supports whoever steps up and that it comes down to “using our athleticism, using our speed, finding shooters,” and “not being shy about it.”

Popovich Appeased on Balance

Popovich has been known to emphasize a team approach, which made his days with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs successful in winning five championships between 1999 and 2014.  This year’s USA basketball hasn’t welcomed that philosophy as much according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

For the USA’s 45-point win over Iran, Popovich liked the balance he saw despite Lillard taking the lion’s share of the shots. Popovich highlighted that they had 34 assists and told the media that’s “pretty good.”

“So they understand that good basketball is sharing the basketball, you know, good to great, hitting the open man, that sort of thing and all the teams that have gotten to the Olympics understand that, that’s not a secret,” Popovich said. “Everybody’s in a sense, kind of a role player now. We don’t we don’t need heroes.”