Spurs edge Pacers giving Gregg Popovich his 1,000th win

Gregg Popovich has a bad rap. His personality that is. And that’s because of the disinterested look and minimal responses he provides to sideline reporters during end-of-quarter interviews.

Like here. Especially here.

Interviews at the end of a quarter are pretty worthless, rarely result in any useful note and are despised by coaches and reporters alike.

But that’s not him, at least much of the time. In fact, the Spurs head coach is a very thoughtful man. We (media) got good Pop on Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He can be moody and rarely is this good, one veteran Spurs beat reporter told me.

Popovich didn’t want to talk about himself, even though he was asked. He went on and on about one of his favorite players to this day, George Hill, who he had the chance for a few years before they traded him home to Indiana. He didn’t want to discuss the meaning of a potential 1,000th career win in his home state — he was born in East Chicago, Indiana — which he would get hours later as the Spurs edged the Pacers, 95-93.

Popovich earned win No. 1000 in his home state, but it didn’t come easily.

“Oh geez, here we go,” Popovich replied. “So you ask questions like that, which demands trite answers, right? You already know the trite answers so just go ahead and say them and I’ll say I said it.”

That was the Popovich many of us outside San Antonio are used to seeing with the Spurs are on national television, or making their annual deep run in the playoffs.

As fate would have it, Hill had a chance with two seconds left to keep his former coach waiting for the elusive 1,000th win, but his 3-ball from the top of the arc didn’t drop.

Through so much change, Popovich was then asked about what is keeping him in the league he joined in 1988 as a Spurs assistant.

“As you might expect, just the guys,” he answered, and then opened up a bit.

“The guys, the gym, the comradery, joking on the bus, sticking each other in practice, and the challenges still feel good. Every year is a different challenge. You start over again. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t go to the playoffs, or you got knocked out in the first round or you won a championship, the next year is a new year and everything is different and you have to deal with it. So that challenge is fun still. When that stops being fun, then I’ll stop doing it.”

He’s been the Spurs head coach since 1996, won five titles (the latest this past summer), and seen just about everything. Where Pop frequently draws praise is for his management of his team. His army, if you will. He is a 1970 graduate of the Air Force, and that’s also where the reigning NBA Champions held training camp last Fall.

Still, he’s able to find common ground with so many players, including all the foreign guys (more than any other team), connect with them and get them all to buy into his proven philosophy.

“The young kinds are easy,” he quipped. “The old ones are hard. Timmy [Tim Duncan] and I divorce once a year. We have a divorce once a year [because] we’ve been together so long…”

Jeff Ayres (formerly Pendergraph), the former Pacer, provided his perspective now having played learned under Popovich for nearly two seasons.

“If there’s something big going on in the world, he keeps things in perspective,” Ayres said. “It’s current event quizzes we have before film sometimes. ‘Do you know what’s going on here? Do you know where this country is and what’s going on?’ He just tries to keep things in perspective, and let you know the world is bigger than basketball. For me, that’s something that I picked up on and really embraced in regards to my family.”

Ayres has a 20-month-old daughter, Naomi, and a son on the way (due late May). Popovich has helped him realized what is most important in life, that basketball isn’t who he is but what he does for his family.

“There’s so many things that it’s hard to list it all,” he said smiling. “He’s a great man and a good guy to look up to.”

After Popovich’s 1,000th win Monday night, he was quick to thank his players and say how it was more a credit to them.

“I’ve been here a long time and I’ve had good players. That’s the formula,” Popovich said. “Getting players is difficult and I’ve been fortunate to have good ones. Time, that’s the most important element. You got to be around for a while, I guess. It’s more of a tribute to them obviously than to any coaches.”

Popovich is the ninth NBA head coach to win 1,000 games, and what makes his tally so special is that they all have come with one franchise —one incredibly special and successful franchise. It doesn’t hurt that he’s had three Hall of Famers, in addition to so much other talent, for much of that time.

After the game, Pacers coach Frank Vogel congratulated him, and he and Hill, his former pupil and still close friend, embraced near mid-court.

“He’s somebody that all of us active coaches look up to, sort of the Godfather of active coaches,” Vogel said of Popovich pregame.

I don’t care what he says, winning 1,000 games — especially professional games — and doing so in his home state is awfully special.

Scot Pollard Instead of Tim Duncan?

Popovich was asked pregame by Mark Montieth of Pacers.com if a rumor he had heard was true, that he had to be talked into drafting Tim Duncan ahead of former Pacer Scot Pollard.

(Full disclosure: Pollard, who has done some television and radio work for team broadcasts this season was right there, not five feet from this conversation.)

The Spurs held the first pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and taking Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest shaped the future of the Spurs organization. From David Robinson to Tim Duncan.

But it didn’t come without a fight, Popovich explained.

“You know, you say that sarcastically but it’s a true story,” he said. “It’s a true story. I loved the way Scot played. Timmy was really smooth and all that and so I wondered, ‘Is that going to translate? Is he going to be tough? Is he going to do what he did … he’s long and lengthy and he’s thin. Scot Pollard was out there kicking you-know-what and taking names.

“It was actually a conversation. Now, I have to also say that that notion didn’t last real long.”

Pollard, after four years at Kansas, was drafted 19th overall by the Detroit Pistons. He played for the Pacers, one of six NBA stops, from 2003-06.

3 Responses to Spurs edge Pacers giving Gregg Popovich his 1,000th win
  1. […] From Vigilant Sports: […]

  2. […] Montieth of Pacers.com asked San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich a few questions about the 1997 draft that got Tim Duncan and eventually helped Popovich get his 1,000th win that […]

  3. […] propos vont dans le sens des déclarations de Jeff Ayres à Scott Agness, journaliste couvrant les […]