Gregg Popovich, teddy bear team president

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Off to the left is my favorite Gregg Popovich-inspired Doc Funk moment of the preseason. It reinforces the general perception of Gregg Popovich as the NBA’s most beloved S.O.B.

But anyone who regularly watches the Spurs knows this doesn’t quite square with reality. Gregg Popovich is an endearing personality, in part, because he is equals parts tough and tender. Despite his frequently chronicled behind-the-wood-shed moments, Popovich often displays a tenderness that helps define “Spurs culture.”

One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples.

Perhaps the most striking example of Pop’s try-a-little-tenderness ethos was recounted by Manu Ginobili in Sunday’s Express-News.

In 2008, the Spurs were stranded on a broken plane at a New Orleans airport. The city was booked solid because of the NBA playoffs and a convention, and the Spurs were set to play the Lakers in less than 48 hours. The Spurs had no choice but to sleep on the plane — to sleep on a plane after winning an NBA playoff Game 7 on the road.

“I’ll always remember Pop walking through the aisles, covering us with blankets, concerned about getting us to sleep. Nobody could sleep.”

Imagine that. Blankets, cookies and milk and Good Night Moon. It’s storybook stuff. Greater displays of tenderness between a coach and his players are few and far between.

Earlier this fall, Popovich took DeJuan Blair and George Hill on a field trip to his boyhood home in Gary, Indiana — an obvious gesture of affection that goes beyond his courtside bark-until-you-bite persona.  And so on.

But Popovich’s fatherly concern goes beyond personality and comes across in the team’s policies. For example, the Spurs almost always facilitate requests for trades and releases. The Spurs are willing to bend to the professional interests of players. Marcus Haislip isn’t playing much and has an opportunity to return to Europe. No problem. The Spurs simply release. Michael Finley wants out so he can sign with another title contender. Print up the press release. Most recently,  the Spurs traded Curtis Jerrells to the Hornets for a fake second round pick. Why? Because they liked him, and because he was an NBA quality player for whom they didn’t have a roster spot. The Spurs were trying to find Jerrells a job.

I wonder whether the Spurs were doing Dell Demps, New Orleans GM, a favor or whether it was Demps who was trying to do right by the Spurs.

Although overlooked and under-appreciated, things like this carry. Gregg Popovich looms large in the lives of his players. It’s fun to imagine this has everything to do with creative cussing, personal threats, and doomsday diatribes. But Popovich is bigger than that.  He isn’t nearly such a bore.

  • Jacob

    One of the biggest reasons why I became and remian a Spurs fan is their character and commitment to doing the right things. I love their attitudes towards each other, the other players and the game itself. Pop, and the whole organization are all a credit to the NBA and humanity in general.

    On a separate note, is anyone else already sick of hearing about LeBron this season? I feel like I’m being force fed ‘filler material’ and I’m about ready to puke. Move on media, please!

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  • Bankshot21

    I’m agree 100% with your post. And as far as LeBron goes I’m very sick of it. But something tells me he relishing in it. His recent release of hate filled twitter post cracks me up. Does he not realize that millions of people, white, black, grey, and orange are victims of racism and bigotry?! Welcome to the real world LeBron.

  • Tyler

    In addition to Pop, Peter Holt’s influence on the organization can’t be overstated. From the top down, the Spurs employ not only the brightest, but good people. That’s a big reason I think fans trust the personnel decisions they make.

  • cay

    In a world where too many people are all icing and no cake, Pop is all cake. No, unnecessary, fluff. No BS. Just straight shooting. You may not like what he says but you can certainly hang your hat on it.
    Side note: check out how many opposing players come and shake Pop’s hand at the final buzzer of any game this season when they absolutely do not have to. THAT is respect.

  • ITGuy

    @Jacob,
    I agree on the LeBron comment. If you think back, the ESPN ad or video app. on this blog always has something about him or the cHeat, it’s sickening. It’s like ESPN doesn’t have anything else to show or write about.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • rob

    Good story. It has always amazed me that in the championships this team has won…Pop (true to form) aknowledges and gives credit to his team and shys away from accolade.

    A person I know used to deal with Pop on occasion prior to Pop becoming head coach. They said his humor was the most recognizable and distinguished trait. Always made people around him feel they belonged and were important.

  • idahospur

    I’m really inspired by recent comments on Pop and RJ working hard this summer. Either of them could have said this team is old and we don’t have a chance against the Lakers but they both committed to preparing for the next season and hopefully give this team the boost it needs.

    Have to agree on LeBron. Every sports fan looked at him as the kid who would remember humble beginnings and be grateful for his amazing talent. But instead he turned into a monster. I expect a re-shoot of the Charles Barkley “I am not a role model” commercial starring Mr. James.

  • joshmbp

    Good post. You have to love pop for about a billion different reasons. I was wondering about the jerrells trade tho. If i remember correctly the hornets released him and did not have to send us the pick. Could the spurs have felt “bad” about having to cut him and asked a former employee to help them out?

  • rob

    @ joshmbp

    “Could the spurs have felt “bad” about having to cut him and asked a former employee to help them out?”

    I’m not sure about that. But once Jaryd Bayless was acquired by the Hornets shortly after that…the writing was on the wall for Jerrells. If that didn’t happen…who knows.

  • the_capital_t

    This is a nice piece of propaganda and all…but…you cannot convince a Laker fan that the Spurs and anything connected to the franchise are/is anything other than…pure…extra adulterated…evil.

    I submit to you the following evidence:

    http://backwardsfrom30.blogspot.com/2009/02/fk-spurs.html

  • Ken

    This franchise was almost as lucky in getting Pop as in getting Robinson and Duncan. No way the Spurs get four championships without all three of those guys. Parker, Ginobili and Bowen helped a little too.

    By the way, at the risk of being the grammar police, I think you meant Pop isn’t a boor. He isn’t a bore either, by any means, but boor means “a person with rude, clumsy manners and little refinement.” A bore is just…boring.

  • OneWing

    Everyone remembers Pop having Finley immediately foul Shaq in the first game last year right? And that goofy smile with the two thumbs up after that? How can you not love that guy?

    One of the best things about being a Spurs fan is that they make it so easy root for them.

    (Now if I could just get them to air games in Austin. Or let the games be shown on the NBA’s Broadband League pass. . . )

    And LeBron is the new Brett Favre.

  • Kevin C.

    One quick question about what you said regarding the “fake 2nd round pick”. I don’t know what that means. Since Jerrells got released by NO, does that mean the draft pick doesn’t stick either?

  • David

    Except Curtis Jerrells got cut and we lost that second round pick now.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    The pick was invalidated when Jerrells was cut. Also, it was so heavily protected, the Spurs would have never seen it. It was a pick on paper only.

  • anteater

    poppo is the real deal and a sagehen! great article by bill plaschke:

    http://www.pomona.edu/magazine/pcmwin05/FSpopovich.shtml

    and also about the sagehen getting thrashed by larry brown’s jayhawks:

    http://www2.kusports.com/news/1987/dec/02/sagehens_survive_thrashing_enjoy_fieldhouse_experi/

  • andy

    it’s no surprise to see the outpouring of admiration from us spurs fans, but i second cay’s post. other players want to play for the spurs, even if we’re not a big ticket destination, and pop is no small part of that.

    when the poll went out on which team draftees most wanted to be selected by, the spurs were at the top of the list. pop may be a notorious disciplinarian, but i think that people around the league know he cares about his players and their relationship. contrast that with the rumblings out of orlando that van gundy’s yelling act has worn thin, or a pre-cancer furious george and i wouldn’t take any coach in the league over pop.

  • Colin

    Great write up.

  • badger

    How many NBA coaches can speak several languages? How many coaches served as Officers in any branch of the U. S. armed forces? How many were given appointments to attend a U.S. Service Academy? How many own an interest in a winery and really know a lot about wine? How many can have a very intellectual discussion of European history over the past several hundred years?

    I think Popovich is so loved by his players and others in the organization because he’s such a fine example of what it means to be a man of character and purpose.

  • bobw

    is Pop the Bobby Cox of the NBA?

  • SAJKinBigD

    Great story! And I could totally see him reading *Good Night Moon* to the kids on the plane! :) I read that to my kids once a week, if not more!

    the_capital_t: You hate what you FEAR! ;P

  • ThatBigGuy

    I love Pop. He should get his sports coat retired and raised to the rafters.

  • SAJKinBigD

    ThatBigGuy: You know they’ll do something to make sure his presence remains forever after he retires. What’d the Celts do for Auerbach?

  • blentzen

    I just love Pop. He’s a class act and one of the main reasons…..I BELIEVE!!!!! 2011 THE YEAR OF THE SPURS!!!!! GO SPURS GO!!!!!

  • Crazylakerfan

    Man! lets go lakers thats what im talking about lets start strong and finish strong LOVE being a lakers fan n a Lakers town 3peat baby! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Jim Henderson

    Crazylakerfan
    October 27th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Don’t get too crazy yet. You almost got your ass handed to you in your own house! And that’s with the Rocket’s star center having not played a regular season game in 18 months. Just remember, over-confidence leads to massive disappointment. And by the way, you might as well take your braggadocio and grandstanding to another team’s site. You won’t get a very good reception here.

  • SAJKinBigD

    Jim – Very good point. I’d be willing to bet he’s already been on the other sites, but they’d rise to the bait.

    Argh, it’s a great day! Spurs season starts and my Rangers are in Game 1 of the WORLD FREAKIN’ SERIES!!!

  • spurs44

    REPLY TO CAPITAL T (TINKER-BELL) is that sun glasses u wearing or u just blind!!
    You must have a### BORING LIFE to spend that much time on fraze’s(20) that has nothing to do with basketball or even funny!!! Are you still having bad dreams of 4-0 sweep in 2003 by SPURS !! Fastford 2010,you should because if we meet them in 7 game series there no 3-peat for your laker’s

  • miggy

    Thanks Timothy, great stuff. Pop’s the best.
    @anteater – thanks for the posts. Great insight into Pop’s character.
    @the_capital_t – funny.

  • johnk348

    as a lakers/clippers fan, it’s hard to not at least respect the spurs after stories like this, and hearing david robinson’s hof inauguration speech. what a class organization.

  • the_capital_t

    @SAJKinBigD: In recent history, the Spurs were the closest thing to a rival for the Lakers prior to 2008. Now that the Celtics are back, so is that rivalry. And, unfortunately, the mutual hatred between the Lakers and Spurs has been a bit muted. You can respect your rivals, but you only fear them when you haven’t defeated them in a really, really long time. Where Lakers-Spurs is concerned…both teams have done some winning although they haven’t had a great match-up in years. I’d really like to see them tangle in this year’s WCF. Could be a classic last stand for both franchises.

    @miggy: Thank you.

    @spurs44: Um…could you try that again in English, please? Su gramática es basura.

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