Gregg Popovich is our dream interviewee.
Behind the gruff exterior the San Antonio Spurs’ coach exhibits with sideline reporters is one of the most beloved figures in basketball. To those in the know, his incredible success is as much about interpersonal relationships and overall approach to the game as nearly unmatched strategic prowess.
Popovich might be the league foremost drill sergeant, but he’s also a patriarch the likes of which it’s maybe never seen. And in his sprawling, fascinating, and altogether charming half hour interview with Tom Tolbert of KNBR, a former Popovich pupil, there’s never been a better opportunity for casual NBA fans to understand the many, many layers behind the game’s most accomplished coach.
But not everyone has the time or patience to sit through 30 minutes of casual NBA conversation. Don’t worry, though; we happily did it for you. Below are highlights of Popovich’s fantastic and enlightening 30-minute chat with Tolbert.
Pop begins the interview showing his dry, witty side:
“Tommy, I was hanging on by my fingernails hoping that you would call sometime this summer. And you finally called! I was getting depressed.”
It’s easy to believe that a strategist like Popovich spends his days pouring over hours and hours of game film. Not so. The wine connoisseur and former Airman not only insists that he lives a full life beyond basketball, but also that outside interests help him cope with the emotional grind of winning and losing:
“Everybody’s pretty different. I’ve always thought of myself as a non-lifer. You know, there are lifers – guys that it’s in their veins from morning ’til night. Larry Brown is a lifer, Hubie Brown, those kind of guys. They’re real basketball people. I’m sort of a pseudo basketball person (laughs). I enjoy it. I love the guys. I like going to practice. I like competing. But when it’s done, it’s done. Some people are able to do that, some aren’t. But I’ve always felt that if you don’t let it go, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
We try to pass that on to our players. Not to get excited in wins, not to get depressed in losses. Just keep moving forward. And Steve [Kerr] did a good job of that this year. He called me one time and said, ‘Pop, this is easy! You guys always acted like it was tough. This is easy!’ That was after he’d won about 19 in a row or something.”
On the trump card of talent when it comes to a coach’s track record:
“There are no coaches that have won anything with bad talent. That’s for sure. Anyone who says it was them, they’re full of bologna.”
Popovich hasn’t always been a shepherd of spacing, ball movement, and three-point shooting. He fully understands the value of the long-ball in the modern NBA, though, and believes there’s still a place in the game for post play – as long as it forces a certain reaction from the defense:
“You pay the price if you don’t make threes, and you pay the price if you don’t get those threes off. One way that big guys are gonna still be valuable is if you have a big guy that demands a double-team. If you have a big guy that you don’t have to double-team? You’re in trouble. But if you got a big guy, he better be somebody who is good enough that he commands a double so it can get kicked, and moved, and you can penetrate or pitch for the threes.
[The three-pointer] is so much more valuable than a two-pointer that you can’t ignore it. So, you try to have a balance between penetrating and [jump-shooting]. But when you penetrate you always think about kicking it to that uncontested three-point guy. So, what we’re doin’ now isn’t gonna change a whole lot across the league because of that three-point line.”