Remarks by the President at Visit with the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs
2:44 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, everybody! (Applause.) Welcome to the White House. Everybody please have a seat. In case you didn’t know, these are the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. (Applause.) I was considering having the Vice President cover these remarks so I could stay fresh for the State of the Union. (Laughter.) Taking an example off Pop who sits his stars sometimes -- (laughter) -- but I decided I actually wanted to meet them.
So I know we’ve got a lot of Spurs fans in the house, (applause) including a guy I stole from San Antonio -- our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former Mayor Julian Castro. (Applause.) Hey! And of course we want to welcome general manager R.C. Buford and, of course, Coach Popovich. (Applause.) I want the coach to know that he is not contractually obligated to take questions after the first quarter of my remarks. (Laughter.)
Now, look, I admit it, I’m a Bulls fan. It’s never easy celebrating a non-Bulls team in the White House. (Laughter.) That’s all I’ve been able to do. (Laughter.) So far. But even I have to admit that the Spurs are hard to dislike. First of all, they’re old. (Laughter.) And for an old guy, it makes me feel good to see -- where’s Tim? (Laughter.) Tim’s got some gray. There’s a few others with a little sprinkles around here. There’s a reason why the uniform is black and silver. (Laughter.) So it makes me feel good to see that folks in advancing years can succeed in a young man’s sport.
But it's also because this is an international team. It's the U.N. of basketball teams. And it shows the way that this wonderful sport has become an international sport. Some people have, rightfully, started calling it -- the Spur’s style of basketball “the beautiful game.” And when you look at the passing and guys back-cutting the hoop and sharing the basketball, you see basketball the way it should be played. And I was telling these guys you can now see everybody around the league actually stealing, first of all, assistant coaches who then become coaches and then start applying that style of play all around the league. And it's made the game better.
Now, this has not always been the case, all the accolades that the Spur’s received. Let’s face it, just a little while back people were saying that the Spurs were passed their prime, not just old but kind of boring. Now they’re fresh and exciting -- which is basically the exact opposite of what happens to Presidents. (Laughter.) It's a different trajectory.
Last season was all about redemption for the Spurs. Everybody remembers the heartbreaking loss -- for the Spurs, not for Miami -- two years ago. And game six obviously was crazy. I'm not going to make you relive all the details. As Tony Parker said, it seemed like the basketball gods were just being cruel. But the Spurs came back focused.
And Tim who’s not used to -- not renowned for his trash-talking, was very clear about the fact that they were going to get back to the Finals. They earned the league’s best record, including a franchise-record 19 in a row. Made it back against the Finals and then eviscerated the Heat, winning in five games with an average margin of 14 points, which is the most lopsided margin in Finals history. (Applause.)
Now, that may have been a high-water mark for excellence, but this is an organization that has been marked by excellence --one of the best in professional sports. Since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997, they’ve won five titles. Tim has now won rings 15 years apart -- only the second player in history to win titles in three different decades. Tim and Tony and Manu have won more playoff games than any trio in NBA history. (Applause.)
But what’s been remarkable as you watch this team over the decade is not just the incredible play of the Big Three, it’s also how the organization always seems to be able to pull together those missing pieces and everybody performing at an incredibly high level. You’ve got Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard who played magnificently. (Applause.) You’ve got Boris Diaw, one of the best passing big men in the game. (Applause.) Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli -- who we miss on the Bulls. (Laughter.) You’ve got Matt Bonner who my notes tell me is a sandwich blogger named Red Mamba. (Laughter.) I mean, how can you not like a guy like that? (Laughter.)
And San Antonio has a special bond with its fans. You hear it in the “Go Spurs, Go” chants. You see it in how the Spurs give back to their community. Coach Popovich has helped the San Antonio Food Bank raise millions of dollars. The Spurs honor our troops and our veterans and their families with camouflage uniforms and discounted tickets. And earlier today, they met with some of our wounded warriors from Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir.
And they’ve been outstanding supporters of San Antonio’s East Side -- an area I designated as a Promise Zone. They’ve created literacy programs, bought tablets and computers for schools. Spurs staffers have served as mentors for young people. So they’ve been leading in the community; they’ve been in leading in terms of style of play.
I want to commend the Spurs as well for something they did after the championship -- hiring Becky Hammon, who’s the first female full-time assistant coach in the NBA. (Applause.) And as somebody who has got two daughters, one of who is a baller, it makes me feel good when excellence is recognized regardless of gender.
So that’s what the Spurs do -- they find ways to put together the best team, whether that means going to Australia or Italy or the WNBA. They want everybody on the court. They think everybody has worth. They find folks who didn’t have a chance someplace else and suddenly they figure out a way to make them shine as part of a team. And in that sense, they’re a great metaphor for what America should be all about.
So I just want to say once again, congratulations. They’re working through some injuries on their quest to another title. But I’ll tell you what, if you guys need any tips on winning back-to-back, you know where to find me. (Laughter and applause.)
COACH POPOVICH: Mine isn’t here, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: You don’t get notes, man. (Laughter.) Mainly because you just give one-word answers. (Laughter.)
COACH POPOVICH: What I want to remind the President about, if I might, with all due respect -- when I sit stars, I get fined. He doesn’t. (Laughter.)
But mostly I would just like to say thank you to the President and all the people here for having us. It truly is an honor to be here. And for me, the most satisfying part is to be able to be with all these guys. They truly have gotten over themselves. They care about the group more than the individual. And I didn’t do that. That’s in their character. That’s who they are.
So it’s a pleasure to have them here be honored by all of you, especially so many San Antonio fans and people who know San Antonio. (Applause.) We know that we answer to you all, and we feel that all the time.
The last thing I want to say is all the pieces that the President talked about that get put together to keep the team at an excellent level, the guy responsible for that is right here, R.C. Buford. He’s the guy that does that. (Applause.)
And now we have some things for the President, I believe.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, what have we got? We’ve got some stuff?
(Gifts are presented.) (Applause.)
2:55 P.M. EST