Gregg Popovich’s ability to coach in the NBA, while simultaneously shirk—through sardonic sideline interviews and rolled eyes—the bullshit that unfortunately comes with coaching in the NBA, is something Stan Van Gundy wishes he could do half as well as Gregg Popovich. But it’s Popovich’s birth right to cantankerously ignore everything that’s superfluous to the game of basketball, and that trait is a large reason I absolutely adore the sommelier from San Antonio.
He’s also my Coach of the Year for 2012.
Here’s @tribjazz scribe Brian T. Smith with another perfect quote from Gregg Popovich:
The San Antonio Spurs, with roughly 9,765 collective years between their starting 5, are sitting in 2nd place in the Western Conference standings. They’re a team that can go 10 deep, with very little drop-off in their second unit. That’s as much a credit to R.C Buford for bringing in the talent to augment the Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili nucleus that’s been in place for close to a decade, as it is Gregg Popovich’s aligning those pieces into a bonafide basketball powerhouse that’s always sneaking up on observers who sometimes forget: Gregg Popovich is fuckin’ good at what he does.
That scraggy face that’s like a doppelganger for every alchoholic I used to sit next to during the dark doldrums of my day drinking during the week, inspires confidence in his team, and appears to remind opponents, ‘you’re not ever gonna get one over on me, so don’t even try.’ Those pock marked crevices might as well be battle scars for all that he’s seen in his 40 years coaching.
Ol’ Pop started at the Air Force Academy as a 4-year player and the team’s 1970 team captain and leading scorer. Upon graduation, he briefly considered a career in the CIA (he has a degree in Soviet Studies and I’m sure the Cold War would have ended 10 years before Gorbachev’s birthmark instituted Perestroika and Glasnost to usher in the end of communism in Mother Russia, if Popovich had joined the Agency instead of coaching basketball), but he went on to try out for the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team, then returned to the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach in 1973.
In 1979, after being named the head coach of the Pomona-Pitzer Men’s Basketball team, he struck up a friendship with then-Kansas coach, Larry Brown. Popovich was Brown’s best man in his 1990 wedding. By that time, he had left Pomona-Pitzer and joined Brown as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs.
After Red McCombs cleaned house in San Antonio in 1992, Popovich briefly joined the staff of the Golden State Warriors. He returned two years later as the General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He brought in Avery Johnson, the squeaky-voiced point guard no team in the league wanted, and who would lead his 1999 team to a title as their starting point guard. He also traded Dennis Rodman for Will Perdue (maybe you read Rodman’s thoughts on Popovich in his book, Bad as I Wanna Be). During the ‘96-‘97 season, Gregg Popovich fired coach Bob Hill 18 games into his 3rd season as head coach, and took over the duty of coaching himself. It happened to coincide with David Robinson’s return to the team from injury. I think you know what happened next. The Spurs missed the playoffs that year, but haven’t missed the playoffs again in the ensuing 14 seasons with him at the helm.
In those 14 seasons he failed to get past the 1st round of the playoffs only twice (2000, 2011) and won 4 titles. I am literally aghast at how consistently dominating his teams have been and I’ve been watching them this whole time. He just abhors flashiness, so you miss all that he’s doing until he’s holding another Larry O’Brien trophy above his hunched, coaches shoulders.
He’s got 4 rings as a head coach, and his tendril-like influence on the rest of the league through all the assistant coaches that have studied under his remarkable tutelage, means that his legacy in this league will extend even further than what he and Buford have done in the mid-tier market of San Antonio.
The fact he’s only won a single COY award (2003) is even more of a joke than Kobe’s lone MVP award.
Gregg Popovich should be the 2012 NBA Coach of the Year, and even if he is, you just know he’ll icily resent the presentation ceremony if it affects his troops before they do battle in this summer’s playoffs. That’s just how Popovich has gone about his business since his time in the Air Force Academy to his tenure as the best basketball coach in the league.
And I love him less for his success than for his attitude in the face of all that success. He’s a basketball badass, and I couldn’t be happier to have him in the league.
AP Photo/Bahram Marc Sabhoni