Posted on May 2, 2012 at 6:46 AM
Wednesday, May 2 at 8:03 AM
Like all successful people in his profession, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is also a master psychologist.
Regardless of how much a coach may know about his sport, that knowledge is wasted if he can't connect with his players at different levels. That's never been a problem for Popovich.
Striking a balance between being as demanding as a drill sergeant and keeping basketball in perspective, Popovich consistently gets the best from his players with a winning blueprint commonly known as "Pop's System" in the NBA.
In Pop's System, a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. And in Pop's world, each part is integral to the whole.
While Popovich has had much success throughout his 16-year coaching career with the Spurs, this season may be his best ever. Spurs captain Tim Duncan left no doubt when he told reporters after a recent game that he's never seen Popovich do a better job.
The way Popovich melded a team composed of aging stars, young players and veteran castoffs into the top seed in the Western Conference during the lockout-shortened season was nothing short of remarkable.
That's why it came as no surprise Tuesday when Popovich, 63, was named NBA Coach of the Year.
Popovich considered career in CIA
In typical Popovich fashion, he seemed almost embarrassed with all the attention during the news conference to announce his latest honor.
Let's face it: A media darling, he ain't.
Popovich practically makes sport of trying to embarrass reporters when they ask him questions.
When Tuesday's news conference at the Spurs' practice facility was over, Popovich made a hasty retreat to the inner sanctum of his office, where, no doubt, he continued watching video of the Utah Jazz for hours.
The Spurs, who finished the regular season 50-16 and tied the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the NBA, lead the Jazz 1-0 in their first-round series. Game 2 is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center.
Arguably one of the most intelligent coaches in the league, Popovich graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies and briefly considered a career in the CIA. That might explain why the guy revels in being an enigma.
Popovich's biting wit and sardonic sense of humor set him apart from most of his peers in the league. And so do the four NBA championships the Spurs have won since he became their head coach early in the 1996-97 season.
Popovich, then the franchise's general manager and director of basketball operations, fired coach Bob Hill after the Spurs stumbled out to a 3-15 start.
Popovich shuns spotlight
That Popovich canned Hill, who had gone 121-43 in his first two seasons with the team, on the same day David Robinson returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring his back in the preseason sparked a controversy that cast Pop as the bad guy.
Called an opportunist by his critics, Popovich didn't have Robinson for long. The Admiral broke his left foot six games after his return and the Spurs went on to finish 17-47 under Popovich and 20-62 overall. But there was a silver lining.
The Spurs' poor record that season landed them in the NBA lottery, and they were fortunate enough to get the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time in nine years. After selecting Robinson in 1989, the Spurs took Duncan with the top pick in 1997.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The Spurs won their first NBA championship in 1999, and added crowns in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
"If you can draft David Robinson and follow that up with Tim Duncan, that's a couple of decades of very, very possible success unless you just screw it up," Popovich said. "So it's hard to take credit when circumstances have gone your way so consistently."
Say what you will about Pop, but he's never been one to seek the spotlight. Fact is, he shuns it.
That in itself, especially in today's world, is refreshing as well as admirable.