SACRAMENTO -- Gregg Popovich hates in-game television interviews, unless maybe the great Craig Sager is standing alongside him wearing an obscene custom made jacket. He isn’t a huge fan of media scrums either and he certainly isn’t going to answer a poorly thought out and delivered question.
Pop is a basketball coach and when it’s all said and done, he will go down as one of the greats the NBA has ever known. But he’s also much more. He’s a connoisseur of fine wines, a teacher and apparently, he’s now political activist as well.
The sure-fire Hall of Fame coach spoke out last week on the presidential election results and he further explained his point of view Wednesday night in Sacramento.
“Somebody asked me and I told the truth of what I felt, and I still feel the same way,” Popovich told reporters before his team beat the Kings 110-105 at Golden 1 Center. “It’s still a disorienting situation when you thought you lived in a certain kind of country with certain values that were held in esteem and find out those values aren’t very important to half the country.”
For a man who is ultimately judged in his career field on wins and championship rings, Popovich has always been about doing it the right way. His Spurs teams succeed because they out execute their opponent.
You could say that the election was won by a politician that out executed his opponent, but according to Popovich, winning shouldn’t come at the expense of core values.
“He doesn’t really seem to be really that interested in policy, or anything like that,” Popovich said of President-elect Donald Trump. “I haven’t seen or heard from him any core values or principles. He’s got one big motivation, and that’s to win at whatever he does. But that’s not a core value, that’s not a principle, that’s not a vision.”
Trump’s decision to appoint Steve Bannon to a high ranking position in his inner circle, struck a chord with Popovich as well.
“It would be great if he made some statements to all of the groups he disparaged, to bring us all together, and to allay fears, because there are a lot of fearful people, and for good reason,” the three-time NBA Coach of the Year said. “But rather than doing that, he inflamed it even more with that appointment.”
Popovich wouldn’t confirm whether he would lead his club to the White House if the Spurs bring home another championship trophy, as has been customary. And when asked whether his owner, the Holt family, gave him the green light to speak on this issue, the surly 67-year-old gave another powerful response.
“No, they haven’t given me that freedom, I live in America,” Popovich said. “That’s what has given me that freedom. There are no individual people that give me that freedom.”
On the court, Popovich is the captain of one of the most successful franchises in professional sports history. He has the platform to speak his mind, and clearly, he doesn’t care whether people agree or disagree with his views.
Long before Popovich was making his political views well known, he was busy building a dynasty in San Antonio. Some coaches have a “coaching tree”, which Popovich certainly has with Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown, but his inclusiveness to other young coaching prospects has had a major impact on the game.
Former Sacramento Kings head coach Michael Malone use to sing the praises of Popovich, crediting the Spurs frontman for recommending him to his first job.
“I would not be in this position if it wasn’t for Coach Popovich,” Malone said told reporters during his time in Sacramento. “I didn’t know Mike Brown. I didn’t know (former Cavs GM) Danny Ferry. He got my foot in that door and once Pop recommended me for that job, Mike Brown said it was mine. And obviously, I’ve thanked him numerous times because of that because he’s taken care of my family.”
Sacramento’s new head coach Dave Joerger worked his way up through the minor leagues, paying his dues every step of the way.
“I have so much respect for (Popovich),” Joerger said following practice on Tuesday. “He let me hang around when I was in the minor leagues. I have a great deal of affinity for him, what he’s done. As great as a basketball coach as he is, he’s an even better human being. He’s a terrific, terrific guy.”
It’s a wide network Popovich has built. His open door policy has allowed a new generation of NBA coaches to learn from one of the true masters of the game. But for Popovich, it isn’t about gaining credit, it’s about enjoying the journey and having an open mind to learning.
“I don’t think about legacies, very honestly, it’s just fun for me to share with other people,” Popovich told CSN California following Wednesday morning’s shootaround. “To have coaches come in in the preseason, whether it’s domestic coaches or people from overseas, it’s just fun to share ideas and watch people grow. It’s as interesting to me as any other aspect of the job.”
Popovich’s entire coaching staff was mentioned as potential head coaching hires during the summer, although all of them decided to stay for one reason or another. Be it Ettore Messina, James Borrego, Ime Udoka or the NBA’s first female assistant coach, Becky Hammon, they will all likely get the call eventually.
“It’s one of the most fun aspects of the job for me to see all these guys who are doing well, enjoying their jobs,” Popovich said. “It’s a situation where everywhere you go, there seems to be somebody - management or coaching, that came through the door. It makes our family bigger, more friends and more people to root for, except when you’re playing them.”
The Popovich family is widespread throughout the league as every franchise looks to one of the NBA’s smallest market teams for tips on longevity. The Spurs came into the year having made the playoffs in 36 of their 40 seasons in the league. Their 67-win season last year was overshadowed by the incredible run by the Golden State Warriors, but that is how Popovich-led teams usually like to maneuver, under the radar.