Gregg Popovich has never been afraid to speak his mind. Whether it’s for his disdain of the in-game media interview, or even expressing his political beliefs. Nobody is above criticism in his eyes and if he has something to say about you, then he’s gonna say it.
This attitude is surprising to new players that join the Spurs who are used to a more traditional coach. Most NBA players expect coaches to handle players the same way. That often means superstars get a pass while the role players get yelled at for making the same mistakes. But that definitely isn’t how it worked with Popovich.
In an incredible story at The Athletic, Jayson Jenks asked multiple Spurs players about their time spent with Pop. These were not long-time Spurs but rather ones who spent less than a year with the team. Some players were only with the team for a 10-day contract and others were there half a season. All of them had stories, but none might be better than the time Pop chewed out everyone in a random Sacramento park.
Damon Stoudamire and DerMarr Johnson shared the story of a time when the team was in Sacramento and Popovich took everyone off the team bus, made them sit in the wet grass and called them out after a poor game.
Johnson: We were on the bus to go to the plane the next morning. He said, “Everybody get off the bus.” It’s early in the morning. We had to follow him.
Stoudamire: We go into the park, and there’s a homeless guy sitting on the bench, right? He’s minding his own business in the park. And Pop asks the guy, “Excuse me, can we have a meeting real quick?”
Johnson: He’s like, “Sit right here. Sit in the grass.” Some guys didn’t want to sit in the grass because it was still wet. He was like, “Man, I’ll buy you new clothes. Just sit in the damn grass.” He sat down and just started calmly letting guys have it. “Bruce Bowen, you’re a prima donna. You don’t play defense anymore like people say you do.” He just went down the line. And the thing is, all the stuff he’s saying, he’s right about.
Both players made it clear that this happened, and while it’s extremely funny it also sounds exactly like the kind of thing Pop would do. Any chance he had to motivate his team he would take it and sometimes that meant tough love. It meant telling players like Tim Duncan and David Robinson they weren’t playing well enough or getting on the 13th man because he came into a blowout and didn’t try hard enough.
Of course, Pop did more than just rip into his players. The story also features players telling about how he was willing to look them in the face when it was time to cut them, or the kindness he showed in supporting his players. It’s clear that Pop has earned the entirety of his reputation.