Coach Pop on pounding the rock


The pounding the rock mantra has been around San Antonio Spurs culture for several years now and gained some national pub along the way. The folks at Pounding the Rock even named their blog after the famous Jacob Riis quote.

It’s one of those unique things about this franchise that makes supporting the Spurs fun. It makes them a thinking fan’s basketball team in a way.

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

I mentioned this in my pregame notes for a late season game against the Kings, but J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock asked Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich during a pregame press conference about the origins of the stonecutter quote and why he brought it to the team. The response that Coach Pop gave was one of the more honest and genuine sound bytes you’ll hear in professional sports these days. It sure reminded me why I’m lucky to be one of the guys covering this team on a daily basis.

I planned on waiting until JRW’s story was posted on PtR to link to it, but I’ve yet to see it there. So here’s Pop’s quote in full:

“That was a long time ago. Well, I guess I never really… well let me just say it was a long time ago. It was back in the 90s and I was reading something about immigration in New York way back when, that kind of thing, and he was a reformer. He fought for better housing and better conditions, working conditions, that type of thing, for immigrants of all countries.


“He was relentless at it and that quote that we use is obviously his quote, and I thought it embodied anyone’s effort in any endeavor, really. It doesn’t have to be basketball. It can be a musical instrument or it can be learning mathematics or going to law school or figuring out how to turn the water off in your house because you’re an idiot. If you can’t figure that out you just keep looking, keep trying, keep going.


“The way he said it was very eloquent, and I thought that it fit. You get tired of all that other junk. ‘Winners never do this’ or ‘Losers always quit.’ ‘There’s no I in team’ — all the typical, trite silly crap you see in locker rooms at all levels. It’s always turned me off, so I thought that this was maybe a little bit more, I don’t know, intelligent. A different way to get to the guys and make them think about it.


“They’ve had that in their brains for a long time. They’re probably totally tired of it, but it’s worked well for us… They’ve been brainwashed pretty good by now… I’m leaving right after Ghadafi. They’re going to get rid of me… I’ve been here too long.”

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  • Mark B

    I think he’s talking about Jacob Riis.  Here’s the wikipedia article about him:

    It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from Popovich.  He’s a reader and his life isn’t all about basketball. 

  • Phife

    The longer Pop wants to be part of this franchise, the better.

  • Andrew A. McNeill

    Wow, I didn’t realize that I forgot to put that it was a quote by Riis in the post. Fixed that.

  • Humberto

    This was very insightful into the mind of Coach Pop, thanks for sharing!

  • MSteele_in_Éire

    I remember you saying about this quote and I could never find what was said so thanks for posting it.
    I’ve only started following the Spurs (and the NBA) in the last 4 years. Living in Ireland meant that I wasn’t drawn to any teams geographicallly (It also means that I have to stay up until 4/5 in the morning to watch games) but what did draw me towards them was the fact that they seemed to have more class and appear to be a more ‘intelligent’ team than others in the league (Not in a ‘book smart’ sort of way but in a ‘behaviour on/off court’ way). It’s reasons like this why I will continue to follow them when they aren’t quite as successful as they are now.

  • MSteele_in_Éire

    On a side note, who are we ‘supporting’ in the finals?
    I understand a lot of people would rather Lebron, Wade & co don’t win because of the whole principle of joining together to win it all, and it’s easy to get carried away with the whole aging, Dallas team with one last hoorah but I would hate it if Dallas win. To have to listen to an interview with Terry about winning would sicken me. Dirk is a great, humble player who I wouldn’t begrudge winning a ring but I just hate Terry. He’s always trying to fuel the rivalry between SA and Dallas, and IMO he just comes across as a childish twat. 

  • Kevin

    I want to want Dallas to win, but every time I watch the games I can’t help but root against them.  I agree with you about JET, especially after reading an article yesterday about the championship trophy tattoo he got on his bicep.  I have a bunch of friends who are Mavs fans, and I really feel for them… but then again they’re all disrespectful towards the Spurs any chance they get, so I kinda want to keep holding our championships over them.

    Everyone seems to root against Lebron, but I don’t hold “the Decision” against him.  That’s a fun team to watch, and Lebron is freaking awesome.  Go Heat!

  • Ed

    If we think about this quote in terms of years and the rock in terms of the Spurs organization then we probably just witnessed the “101st strike”. The Spurs lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that will lost the Finals. Tweaks aren’t going to help. Big moves/changes are needed.

  • Tyrone Jenkins

    @f8fe7b7640a193b2bc04a10743da61cb:disqus I know you and many other Spurs fans find it hard to like Dallas.  I don’t really like any other team except the Spurs, but I wouldn’t root AGAINST Dallas just because a few of their fans seem to be disrespectful…

    The Spurs fans I know, myself included, look beyond the sillyness and contriteness of Mavs fans and are able to see what is happening on the floor in spite of whatever we feel toward their team.  Plain and simple, Dirk is doing something that has not been done before – not by Michael, not by Kobe, not by Shaq, Wilt, Oscar Roberston, Larry Bird, none of them.  Dirk has played 15 games thus far in the playoffs and is shooting better than 50% from the 2 and 3 pt areas.  He’s shooting 93% from the FT line.  In game 1 of the Conf Finals, Dirk shot 12-15 from the field ans 24 of 24 from the line.  He missed THREE SHOTS all game while scoring 48 points.

    Dirk, to me, is not one of the top 5 players in the league this year but this shooting display is one of the best I’ve ever seen.  And being a fan of basketball, I root for that… 

  • Titletown99030507d


  • Titletown99030507d

    Heat. Never Dallas. Never ever ever ever. I don’t want to see Cuban and Terry show boating if they win. Go Lebron!

  • Titletown99030507d

    As long as cuban and some of those hoodrats on the team are part of that Mavs org I don’t want them to win squate. GO Lebron!

  • Rob

    I don’t really have a preference, but if I were to root for any player on a given team it would be Dwayne Wade.  Class act.

  • Rob

    “I’m leaving right after Ghadafi. They’re going to get rid of me… I’ve been here too long.”


  • Rob

    OK.  I’m fine with keep pounding.  But if the tools you’re using are not as sharp and crisp or broken down…then no matter how much you pound…that rock won’t crack.

    Great analogy.  Great reasoning for using it.  Doesn’t apply when the tools in the shed are worn, old, or don’t have the capability to perform the task.

  • Daniel T

    There’s a story often told about a child watching a sculptor pounding away at a block of marble that after months results in a lion.  The Jacob Riis story is about a stonecutter able to achieve a broken rock.  I think I’d prefer that the pounding resulted in a marble lion vs. a broken rock.

  • Anonymous

    I love spurs, but it is about time to start doing some real rebuilding. History fishing sometime starve the fisherman

  • Anonymous

    I love spurs, but it is about time to start doing some real rebuilding. History fishing sometime starve the fisherman

  • Anonymous

     Looking forward to the series: the player matchups by position; whose bench is more productive; what other player (besides the 4 big stars) provides a significant impact for his team; does Coach Carlise’s playoff experience (took three different franchises to conference semifinals- Pacers, Nets, Mavericks) gives him an edge over Spoelstra.
    I’ll be ok with the Mavs winning the title–remember they were playing as well as any team in the league before the injuries to Caron Butler and Dirk Nowitski in January set them back.

  • Hurm66

    Easy. The Heat. I think it’s important that they pound the Mavs again in the Finals. That’s not a likable Mavs team and I’m a little over the Dirk love-fest honestly. I agree he’s an all world offensive player, but he’s no Larry Legend.

    I live in Miami (born and raised) and grew up a huge Gervin fan (had the poster of him on the ice throne). Suffered during the lean years (Moore led the league in assists), was hopeful and heartbroken through the Admiral years (damn Strickland) and have been grateful for the Duncan / Manu years.

    I am a true, longtime Spurs fan since there’s was no Heat when I was a child. I do root for the Heat and they were lovable losers for a long time here. Wade really is a class act and unless it’s the Spurs, there is no other team worthy for me.

    In ’99 I said to my wife, “if there is justice in this world, the Spurs will crush the Knicks in the Finals to pay for beating the Heat in a heartbreaking series”. It was sweeter than you can imagine. I just wished the Grizzlies had made the Finals so the Heat could have returned the favor of beating an eight seed for us. Shrug.

  • Anonymous

    @ Hum66  —those 3 straight playoff losses to the Knicks are seared in your memory, eh? But I have to admit, those series were compelling basketball. NBA fans were split right down the middle on which team would come out on top. All the storylines (Pat Riley coaching against his former team, former Hornets teammates Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning squaring off against each other); the characters (Tim Hardaway, John Starks) the trash talking and gestering; the infamous ‘ball-out-bounds-toss in’ brawl—I, and everyone else–ate it up. Mourning was a great defensive player–but he oversold the ‘big, bad, tough guy’ image he protrayed. He, along with Kevin Garnett, got too much airtime (interviews, soundbites) for saying the same things over and over. But ‘Zo does have one of the top 5 all-time NBA scowls in history; the only player in the last 10 years that comes close is Kendrick Persons.
    Since the Spurs didn’t get to 6 titles under Duncan, I want to delay as long as possible any team getting to 4. Go ahead Mavs–get this one so the State of Texas can say all of their NBA teams have an NBA championship.

  • Anonymous

    Correction to my error–Kendrick Perkins

  • Anonymous

    @ Hum66  – got to let that Grizz series go, man (along with other Spurs fans). It wasn’t like Memphis was a sub .500 record club (as we have seen happen in the eastern conference the last few seasons) that qualified for the playoffs; hey, 3 more Grizz wins–with one of them being against the Nuggets–and Memphis has the 5th place playoff spot.
    2010-11 regular season & playoffs: in 10 games vs Grizzlies, the Spurs were 4-6, and 0-5 at FedExForum. It is what it is.

  • Anonymous

    Other than Terry and Cuban, there’s no Maverick that’s unlikeable/detestable. No one is a quote machine or always mugging for the camera. No outwardly bad characters to my knowledge (Caron Butler had troubles as a youth and while @ UConn; Kidd had some issues with his ex-wife when married).
    I know no Mavs fans that rag on the Spurs (but I don’t live in Texas).

  • idahospur

    I cheer against the Heat. I think their model is bad for the NBA, especially small-market teams. I want to see David Stern forced to have a smile on his face as he gives the trophy to Mark Cuban (even though I also detest him).

  • Msteele_in_Éire

    Somebody said it on a previous article earlier in the post season and I totally agree. They said they didn’t want anyone winning from the West. I don’t know why I agree but I just don’t want anyone in the West to win it. Guy it might not seem so bad at the minute if Dallas win it but when it gets to next season, it’ll just add cockiness to the already cocky Terry, Cuban, even someone like Chandler. I hate the Dallas player’s demeanour on the court. They all do that chest beating, yelling, Terry’s ‘Jet’ celebration after hitting a shot (like seriously what f*cking age are you), Barea screamin after hitting a shot (and flopping on nearly every defensive player)… etc it just annoys me watching them win. Agreed it doesn’t send the right message to young players if Miami wins but at the end of the day Dallas must be in the top 3/4 paying salaries. Giving their back-up center a $55 mil contract. It’s hardly like they’re a good model franchise either.

    IMO, besides Lebron, Miami isn’t all that hateable. Wade’s one of the good guys in this league, Bosh has never really done anything to be ‘hated’, Haslem is just a tough but fair defender, Mike Miller is a good guy, Chalmers, Bibby, Joel Anthony have never really done anything wrong. To be honest I would rather have Miami win it but I just want to see a long, tough, battling series.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Msteele_in_Eire – “I hate the Dallas player’s demeanour on the court. They all do that chest beating, yelling, Terry’s ‘Jet’ celebration after hitting a shot…. — @DorieStreet:disqus 
    Dude—2 or 3 players on about 26 of the 30 teams do the same thing or other histrionics to call attention to themselves.  The Heat- Wade jumping up on the scorers’ table hollering “this is my house”; Durant saying the same thing after that WCF game 4 start (I even think he inserted the MF word); Garnett beating his noggin against the backboard post pregame; Wade doing chinups on the rim; the 3 or 4 copycats that do the Jordan ‘powder clap’ just before tipoff; Kendrick Perkins with scowl & strut walk after getting an ‘and 1’ after one of his 3 made baskets per game; Fisher & Artest; Amare; Noah; the Nuggets—outlandish, juvenile oncourt behavior is not the sole property of the Mavericks squad.

    And speaking of flopping—they are good defensive players, but they are top 5 in flopping: Verejao, Big Baby, Battier, Fisher. But if you went on one  fan blog site for each of the other 29 NBA teams and asked the question, “Who flops the most/is the worst flopper in the league?” –he’s our guy–but Manu would be the top vote-getter in 23-24 of those sites.

  • DorieStreet

    Fisher’s legs are gone–just about every starting PG in the league chews him up and spits them out now, so strike him from that top defensive performer list.
    And then Msteele_in_Eire -you go ripping on the Mavs for one  bad contract–Heyward; but then the Mavs turn around and sign Chandler (beating the Spurs FO to the punch–we could have used him vs Memphis).
    And what’s with this ‘choir boy’ adulation of the Heat players? You don’t remember Chalmers being busted for pot-smoking at his rookie orientation session? Mike Miller- the weird hairdos and the half-dollar size earring studs he wears on the court-no wrong doing, but eh?

    MSteele_in_Eire  –if you hate the Mavs, and don’t want them to win the title–fine. But don’t make like the team is an entire roster of punks and egomanics that give the league a bad name–and even worse–no other rosters have 2 or 3 of that ilk on their squad.
    Except the Spurs, of course (throw in the Sixers, Pacers, Blazers, Rockets also–what teams did I miss?).

  • Messi

    Big time dilemma here for Spurs fans.  Root for Dallas and we get to hear whiny, elitist Mavs fans brag for the next fifty years about how they one 1 championship despite choking year after year.  Cuban is a  ignorant, classless pri*ck and Terry is a coward who likes to hit players in the balls when they’re on the ground.  Then again, I’m not sure I want to hear the ridiculous comparisons about Lebron being the next Jordan… 

  • Messi

     “won” as opposed to “one”

  • DorieStreet

    This is also what you will hear from Heat fans if Miami wins:  ” This is our first title out of –‘not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7….’   “.
    There will be championship shirts printed with that phrase.

  • Bry

    You guys must be kidding. How can you be a Spurs fan and not root against the Mavs? Seriously, you want to play them four times next year with that new cockiness? Jet is particularly annoying, because doesn’t play defense and never has, and he always seems to score a lot without going anywhere in the playoffs. I mean, if NONE of the coaches you’ve ever had in the NBA feel like you are a starter, then you probably should pass the mike already. The Mavs spend over 90 million, 2nd only (barely) to the Lakers. That’s why they can have a starter blow out his knee and STILL have the deepest team in the playoffs. They are not a model franchise, they are not a likable team and frankly I would LOVE to see them get crushed by Miami.
           If they get beat they seriously think about blowing it up, especially when you consider how many key players they have in their 30’s. If they win, you can bank on them keeping that same annoying squad (and hurting the Spurs chances to win the division) for the next two or three years. I’m amazed you guys are even hesitant. And Derek Fisher is the worst flopper since Divac, hands down.

  • Bry

    Yeah, but as a Spurs fan that’s far easier to swallow. Miami’s in the East. Their main rivals are in the East. We only play them twice each year. Trust me, it will be WAY more obnoxious if all those players on Dallas finally get rings. Miami is gonna win one of these years, it’s just inevitable (just imagine how they will be with a slightly deeper bench, and a full training camp together). So, if they are going to win it, let it be over Cuban’s boys. I haven’t wanted a non-Laker team to lose in the finals this bad since Utah in 1997. (Of course, except for the 4 Spurs opponents….)

  • Anonymous

    As I posted on a previous blog, I’m watching because I’m an NBA fan and it’s the Finals. Watching to see how the matchups go, what happens if the games’ outcomes come down to the last seconds, whether the stars provide the outstanding plays alone or does a role player or two grab some of the spotlight. No rooting interest. I think the Heat win in 6, but if the Mavs pull it off, so what? Whether it’s an old fan or a new bandwagoner, you reply “it’s about time” or even better–hold up 4 fingers on one hand and 1 finger on the other.

  • idahospur

    Dallas wins, they get one championship. Miami wins, then starts the talk of the new dynasty in town and how all other teams are going to make moves to create Superfriends or Wonder Pets or whatever you call them now.

  • DorieStreet

    I experienced the ‘copycat jet’ since he first arrived in Atlanta. Hawks tried to make him a PG but he couldn’t cut it. He (& the Hawks staff) were crucified week in & out. Then when the NCAA investigation broke that he took money to go to Arizona- Terry hit rock bottom. So from then on he took on the persona of an NBA ‘irrantant’—in every away game I will do something to get on the opposing fans’ nerves  -especially the rival Spurs.
    Bry==you worried about the Mavs being top dog in the SW division and thus impeeding Spurs getting to the Finals.
    Spurs lost in 1st round –if we went up against NO who’s to guarantee we beat them to get to 2ndr round considering how the Spurs finished up (play+ injuries)
    OKC,MEM,DEN,POR; maybe even HOU with new coach Mchale (ROTF) are ahead of the Spurs now heading into the offseason.

    And about that flopping opinion–
    Fisher/Divac were 1A/1B the late 90’s thru 2004; I dare you to comprise a poll for the other 29 team fans to vote since then–

  • Bry

    I think Fisher is still holding flopper trophy, until somebody dethrones him. As far as the Spurs suddenly being the like the 7th or 8th best team in the West; that ‘s the same stuff they said last year. There were a ton of things that went wrong for them in this playoffs, which help to explain why the #1 seed lost in the first round. Pop got out-coached, Parker got out-played by Conley, Zach Randolph had by far the best period of ball in his career, and Marc Gasol looked and played BETTER than his brother. Remember, the Mavs got beaten in 5 games last year, and a lot of you were writing their obituary as well. The Spurs likely will not have to integrate any new faces into their system, and hopefully Ginobili won’t break his arm just in time for the post-season. I think a lot of people a calling for a premature funeral for a team that won 61 games and lost in six to what was easily their worst match-up for the first round. I also think people fail to notice how removing Mayo and Gay from the starting line-up (one due to injury, and the other due to poor play) and replacing them with Allen and Battier quickly turned their perimeter D from awful to superb. That was the fluke and unwritten story of that series.

  • DorieStreet

    You call it a fluke; I see it as a team (coaching staff & front office) making adjustments at a point in the season when the status quo was not working. Mayo was taken out of the starting lineup around Thanksgiving to give the bench more scoring; the team still only played .500 ball for another 2 months. The team started to turn it around when Gay was still playing, going from 22-24 to 31-26 (a 9-2 surge), then Gay went out; Grizz obtained Battier–but the team struggled–going only 6-6. The last 4 weeks of the season they put it together, going 9-4 down the stretch –it would have been 11-2 if the hadn’t sat out some starters.
    So it wasn’t like a magic spell and poof! -waalaa–an 8th seed wunderkin. They were a western conference team that had it players improve as the season went along (Conley, Gasol, Young). From 24-24, Grizz went 22-12 down the stretch; during the same period, Spurs were 40-8, then went 21-13 the rest of the way.
    But I see what your saying regarding the playoffs; it’s a year-to-year round-robin basically. The 2010-11 Spurs could be the 2009-10 Mavs. Let’s hope so. But the playoff trend of the last 3 years is troubling:  ’09 -2nd spot in WC, out 1-4 in 1st round; ’10 -7th spot in WC, swept 0-4 in 2nd round;  ’11- 1st spot in WC, out  2-4 in 1st. But as you stated before, the Mavs were struggling in the playoffs since their Finals apperance in 2006.

    5 hours until tipoff—sit back, relax and enjoy the competition.

  • DorieStreet

    Yeah.  And I don’t get it about Spurs fans not wanting a western conference team to win the finals if the Spurs can’t make it. Yes the other team gets a title, but it’s suppose to be better –or not so bad–if a team from the east is the champ?
    I think it reflects better on the Spurs-and WC teams as a whole–tougher competiton to get by.
    Last 20 NBA champions:
    Eastern conference-  Bulls 6, Pistons 1, Heat 1, Celtics 1
    Western conference- Lakers 5, Spurs 4, Rockets 2.

  • td4life

    Can’t possibly root for the Heat. Irregardless of the local rivalry, the Heat are a terrible example for small-market NBA teams nationwide. Especially quality franchises in places like SA. Imagine if these Heat had come in and dominated prior to Timmy becoming a Spur… shudder to think that The Admiral wouldn’t have been able to convince him not to finish his career with Grant Hill and T-mac (which obviuosly would have been a disaster). If we ever get another HOF player in the draft, we wont’ want him dreaming of leaving for the beach or big city when his rookie deal is up. 
    The Heat are too talented not to win eventually if healthy, but my vote goes to the MVP candidate that resigned with his team last summer, despite the lack of all-star support.  Gotta root for as many examples of that team-building style as possible to grab as many trophies as possible from here on out!

  • Senorglory

    turn off the tv.  do something else.  support neither.

  • Colin Rigney

    Dirk is first class and would be a shame for a player of his caliber not to win a championship.  He is truly in a class of his own. 

    Hoodrats?  Go Lebron?  Whatever.  

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  • Nancy Flowers

                                For Pop and The Team

        HUMILITY  gives you the wisdom to make the right plays
                         the courage to bounce back
                         the perserverance to stay in the game

                         the faith to believe in yourself and each other
                         the will to get better until you’re the best you can be
                         the love for the game like when you were a child
                         the patience when a bad call pisses you off
                         takes the responsibility not the credit or glory
                         the charity to gives an assist or 10
                         the obedience to listen to your coaches and act on it!

                         a loss wiith respect not shame or guilt
                          a win without a boastful word or action

             Humility wins games
             But Pride losses games….one by one…by one.

             Many times comments are made with criticisms or very opinioniated remarks.  
             I thought this might help a little.

             Love basketball and the Spurs!!
             Go Spurs Go!!!

  • Fuckya

    Because he’s up there with the best coaches of all time.


    Read the article on this page and like to Bring love to San Antonio! Follow this link or search facebook page Bring Love to San Antonio!

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  • random

    i was trying to find something about rocks but this is not what i was expecting