A dream Senate matchup: Coach Pop vs. Ted Cruz in 2024

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This opinion piece has been updated.

Too bad San Antonio Spurs coach and general manager Gregg Popovich is 74. If he were younger and looking for a new challenge, like campaigning to become president of the United States, I’d gladly give him my vote.

Coach Pop is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, served his country in the military for five years and paid his dues in a series of subordinate coaching roles before reaching the pinnacle of the National Basketball Association and winning five national championships.

He was a first round shoo-in to the NBA’s Naismith Hall of Fame earlier this month. Off the court, he is widely read, articulate, passionate in his views, has strong ethics, is financially independent, quietly generous to various causes, and indebted to no one. He knows how to build and lead winning teams.

And actually, his age isn’t really a problem.

We have two seniors older than Pop serving as frontrunners in the early days of the 2024 presidential campaign. Former President Donald Trump turns 77 in June and President Joe Biden turns 81 in November.

Quite a steady number of millennial and Gen Z voters I have spoken with in my capacity as a journalist and podcaster are appalled by Trump and uninspired by Biden; one’s utter lack of personal character and business ethics and know-nothing approach to global affairs. The other a gaffe-prone, uninspiring speaker, insufficiently progressive. Their preferred candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, turns 82 in September, his presidential ambitions seemingly extinguished.

So how about Coach Pop versus Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for Senate? Perhaps the outspoken Spurs coach can finish the job that former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke came close to doing in 2018 when he ran as a Democrat against Cruz in the general election, losing only by 2.6% points in a state that has only elected Republicans in statewide elections for three decades.

Cruz, long the least respected and liked member of the 100-person U.S. Senate, has announced plans to seek a third term in 2024. It’s no secret that Cruz also is watching Trump, now under criminal indictment, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, hoping there is room for him to try a second time for the Republican presidential nomination.

Cruz finished a distant second to Trump in the 2016 Republican primary campaign, where the two outdid each other with insults. Even though Trump called him “Lyin’ Ted,” Cruz later obsequiously threw his support behind the president, ignoring Trump’s campaign insults on Twitter about Cruz’s wife’s physical looks, and his threat to “spill the beans” on social media about her, whatever that meant.

Popovich used the last pregame press conference of the Spurs season on Sunday to deliver a 10-minute critique of politicians who refuse to support stricter gun laws. He singled out Cruz for his proposal to double the number of armed peace officers assigned to patrol school campuses

Now Cruz is the one issuing insults, dismissing Popovich as “a liberal Democrat,” as if that were a bad thingon a recent podcast. He also denounced Popovich’s fiery condemnations of Cruz and other Republican politicians for their refusal to address the country’s epidemic of mass shootings with tighter gun control laws.

Cruz supporters will like his populist rant against NBA elites like Pop and his rich players, and what the senator sees as hypocrisy given the platoon of moonlighting police and deputies safeguarding teams and fans at arena-filled games.

The key issue for Pop and a majority of Americans who support more rigorous background checks of would-be gun buyers is amending gun laws to prevent angry, unstable young men from buying military style assault weapons for use in mass shootings of innocent adults and children. These are firearms designed to do one thing: kill human beings.  Cruz opposes any changes to current gun laws.

There have been 150 mass shootings in the first four months of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, with at least 15 of those shootings resulting in multiple fatalities.

There’s no law prohibiting an active NBA coach from running for elected office. A debate on gun violence between Popovich and Cruz would easily attract enough voters to fill the AT&T Center, maybe even the Alamo dome — and I, for one, would love to be there. Also read

This story has been updated to correct the number of members in the Senate.

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