On Monday night, the San Antonio Spurs finished off a Western Conference Finals sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies to advance to the NBA Finals. The fifth such trip for the franchise in their history, all since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach in 1996.
Coming from Memphis, where the Grizzlies have had some epic battles with the Spurs over the past few seasons, I have admired Popovich for some time. I make the argument that he is one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, and he is certainly one of the best coaches I have seen in my lifetime in any sport.
So it puzzles me to see some of the reaction to the Spurs continued success under Popovich, with the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobli core.
The reaction I am talking about? The comparisons of the Spurs to a college program that churns out success year after year after year. The sentiment that seems to give credit to the organization instead of Popovich. Like there is a magic elixir you drink when you join the Spurs that instantly transforms you into a “winner” that plays “Spurs basketball.”
Isn’t Spurs basketball really Gregg Popovich basketball? Why doesn’t Popovich get the credit that falls onto the organization?
I think it’s pretty obvious that longevity can be a reason for this. College coaches can rule over a program for decades while racking up postseason berths and national championships. College basketball is a perfect example. Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, and other legends of college athletics have built iconic programs over time. This isn’t the normal professional model for coaches and organizations. All of those coaches are revered for running the programs. Not vice versa.
When a coach stays with a professional organization for a long period of success, like Bill Belichick in New England, again, the praise is for the coach. Not for the program. The coach dictates the direction of the organization.
So again, am I crazy? Is Popovich getting the same type of credit?
Elias Sports Bureau points out that Popovich and Tim Duncan have won more games in the postseason than any other player/coach duo in NBA history. You need superstars to win games, and Popovich has done a better job than anyone of utilizing his Hall of Fame big man throughout the years with different personnel and unique approaches.
With a core of Duncan, Ginobli and Parker, again according to Elias, the Spurs have 98 wins. Only the trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Cooper has more wins, with 110.
And a title this year would make Pop five for five. Remarkable.
Players deserve plenty of credit for any coach’s success. But to navigate the NBA’s Western Conference, rebuild multiple times, and continue to dominate on a year-by-year basis is remarkable.
Say whatever you want about the “Spurs way.” Feel free to diminish what Gregg Popovich has done based on the superstars he has coached. But this year has cemented what I have already believed for years. The “Spurs way” is truly the Gregg Popovich way. And for my money, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
- Video: Gregg Popovich and the Best Two Word Interview Ever (everyjoe.com)