Pistons’ Van Gundy backs player protests in Time piece

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy has taken strong stances in recent years about his views on political and social issues. He famously vented on the day after President Donald Trump was elected last year and has been outspoken about many issues, including protests by athletes about racial and social injustices.

He made a new foray, authoring an op-ed for Time Magazine: “Detroit Pistons Coach: Athletes Who Protest Are Patriots,” which was published online Tuesday morning.

“In a time where bigotry seems on the rise and commitment to racial equality on the decline, I have an obligation as a citizen to speak out and to support, in any way possible, those brave and patriotic athletes who are working to bring change to our country,” Van Gundy wrote. “I believe all of us do.”

He mentioned the harsh criticism hurled at players from the NFL and WNBA for taking a knee or raising a fist and disagreed with the notion that those silent forms of protest dishonor the country because they came during the national anthem.

The Pistons players had similar sentiments, but after inviting noted author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson to speak to the team during training camp, Van Gundy and the team got an education, especially in the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and the issues with he calls “racist language” in the later verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


Van Gundy said he took about four hours to write the piece, which he completed on the plane ride back from Los Angeles during their three-game road trip in October. It was his first time he’s ever been published in a national publication, but he wanted to get some of the issues off his chest and not offend.

“All I was trying to do in that — and I don’t think I was overly critical of anybody — was to try to show support for the players,” Van Gundy said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m really proud of guys who have spoken up. There are too many people now, especially young people, who haven’t gotten involved enough and haven’t had enough to say.

“I do agree with them on everything they say, but even if you don’t, you should have respect that these guys are out there in a peaceful way, talking about issues that are important to them and with great personal sacrifice.”

Van Gundy got some backlash for his criticism of President Trump in the past but said this piece wasn’t directed at him. Instead, he was trying to voice his support of the players coalition that has worked to bring light to the issues.

“Other than the fact that some people just think no one should protest even, I didn’t go after anybody; I was just supporting their causes and more than anything, their right to protest,” Van Gundy said. “I do think that’s what our country’s all about and our values are all about. They value those people who fought for those freedoms by exercising those freedoms.”

“I meant what I said: Our country was founded on protests. If it was just ‘Shut up and honor your country, no matter what,’ we’d still be flying the Union Jack. That’s not what our founding fathers did — they didn’t like what was going on and they broke away and formed their own country.”

Injuries update

Stanley Johnson (back) and Jon Leuer (sprained left ankle) practiced fully Tuesday, but Van Gundy wasn’t sure that they’d be available to return for Wednesday’s matchup against the Bucks, classifying them as questionable.

“You know how injuries go: It’s their first day back, so how they feel now isn’t nearly as important as how they’re going to feel tomorrow, coming of their first contact,” Van Gundy said. “They both looked rusty; they did everything. We’ll see how tomorrow morning goes and see where we go.”

Kennard's defense

The reserve rotation continues to be a toss-up, with rookie Luke Kennard getting some extra playing time — and giving his best production, with 14 points. Van Gundy was most impressed with Kennard’s defense, though, especially with a tough assignment on the Heat’s Dion Waiters.

While Kennard has been regarded for his offense, the defense he plays could dictate whether he gets more regular playing time.

“He did OK. Luke played a good, solid defensive game,” Van Gundy said. “That was the thing that made me the happiest. We needed his points, too.”

Pistons at Bucks

Tip-off: 8 p.m. Wednesday, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/WWJ

Outlook: The Pistons (10-3) have won five straight and are off to their best start since 2008. They beat the Bucks (7-6) in the first meeting, 105-96, on Nov. 3. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists.