Gregg Popovich has built a reputation over the years for his acid-tongue rapport with the media and his casually-acerbic demeanor. But at least some of that is a facade. The people who know him best have incredibly warm and funny things to say about him.
In Jackie MacMullan’s fantastic profile of the legendary Spurs coach over at ESPN.com on Monday, she retells such a story from 2002, when Mike Brown was working as an assistant in San Antonio.
When former assistant Mike Brown separated from his wife in 2002, his two young sons moved with her to Colorado. Brown’s sister brought the boys to San Antonio for a visit, but when it was time to take them back to the airport, Brown’s boys dissolved into tears. Brown, who had done the advance work for the upcoming road game against Chicago, called Popovich to let him know he was running a couple of minutes late.
“You better not come,” Popovich barked.
“No, it’s OK, my sister is with them,” Brown replied.
“If you come to this plane,” Popovich growled, “you’re fired.” Then he hung up.
Brown stayed behind and spent two extra days with his sons. When Popovich returned from the road trip, he administered a stern lecture on priorities. The message: family first, then basketball.
That wouldn’t be the last time Pop emphasized the importance of life beyond basketball. Back in 2015, he famously recoiled at the notion of spacing out the NBA schedule, insisting that he would refuse to coach the NBA Finals if they extended all the way into July, saying “Count me out. Life’s too short.” Of course, now that he’s the new head coach of USA Basketball, he’ll be doing quite a bit of coaching during the summer months for the foreseeable future.