Gregg Popovich had it coming and justice has finally been served. The head coach of the San Antonio Spurs can be characterized in a lot of different ways — curmudgeon comes to mind — but there’s one thing that we should all agree on. Coach Pop is one of the best basketball coaches in the world and the NBA’s Coach of the Year award belongs in Pop’s hands.
This is Popovich’s third time winning the award, which ties him with Pat Riley and Don Nelson for the most wins in a career. The Spurs hold the league’s best record at 62-20, and it’s been the coaching of Popovich that has them primed for another championship run. Despite injuries and bench turnover, Popovich never missed a beat.
It’s almost unbelievable that the Spurs have won 50 or more games in 15 consecutive seasons. A lot of that can be credited to Tim Duncan and his longevity, but coach Pop deserves a ton of credit for having the pulse of his team. It’s not like one player carried the Spurs this year — they had NO player average over 20 points and nobody played more than 30 minutes per game.
While most of us think of Popovich as a great coach with poor bedside manor (at least on national TV), the fact is, he’s a very brilliant and thoughtful man to those that know him best. I’ve personally witnessed Popovich baptize a young reporter in the back halls of the arena, giving the same kind of one-word answers that he’d give to Craig Sager on TNT. Yet, when Popovich had the opportunity to show his softer side, he did just that. Check out his great message to Sager, who is at home battling leukemia.
Getting back to basketball for a minute, Popovich has the chance to win his fifth NBA championship this season, which only furthers his legacy as one of the best to ever coach. The 65-year-old from East Chicago, Indiana has a career record of 967-443 (.686) with only one losing season (1996-97, 17-47) to his credit. That year also happened to be his first and was the year that David Robinson played just six games because of injury. The Spurs won the lottery that offseason, drafted Duncan and the rest is history.
What’s perhaps most impressive to me is the way in which Popovich has handled his business over the years. He’s been able to adapt his coaching without sacrificing who he is and how he conducts himself. His Spurs teams weren’t offensive juggernauts earlier on in his coaching career. In fact, the Spurs were one of the best defensive teams in the league in the 2000’s. The team went 10 seasons with a defensive rating of under 100.
Now, the team is looked at as an offensive machine, well-oiled and all, just killing opponents with great teamwork and execution. They’re not sexy and they’re not flashy, but they’re effective. To say that the Spurs have been molded by Popovich would be 100 percent correct. They personify his personality and work ethic. Will they get what they deserve at the end of the season? That remains to be seen, but at least coach Pop got the recognition that he had coming.