Popovich, Gregg

▪ 2008

born Jan. 28, 1949, East Chicago, Ind.

      In 2007 Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the National Basketball Association San Antonio Spurs, added another piece of jewelry to his collection of NBA championship rings—making a total of three in four years and four in nine years. Popovich described star power forward Tim Duncan as the “common denominator " of the Spurs' titles in 1999, 2003, 2005, and their most recent one, a 4–0 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 best-of-seven series. Popovich was much less comfortable defining himself, saying, “I guess I'm just somebody who tries to make sure that the environment is such that they can thrive. I think that's what most coaches try to do. " His colleagues disagreed. “His best quality is that he knows how to manage people, how to push the right buttons, and who he can push, on and off the court, " said Hank Egan, the former Air Force head coach who later became an assistant to Popovich with the Spurs. Those abilities allowed Popovich to bring out the best in French guard Tony Parker, who emerged as the Most Valuable Player of the 2007 finals, and to persuade Argentine starting guard Manu Ginobili to become a sixth man.

      Popovich, who was of Serb and Croatian descent, played basketball while attending the U.S. Air Force Academy, becoming the team's captain and leading scorer as a senior. He earned a degree in Soviet studies and later received a master's degree in physical education and sports sciences from the University of Denver. During his five-year military service in the air force, he toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and became the captain of the Armed Forces team that won the 1972 Amateur Athletic Union basketball championship. He also was invited to the training camp for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team, though he failed to make the final squad.

      After a stint as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy, he worked for eight years (1979–86 and 1987–88) as an assistant professor and coach at Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in Claremont, Calif., serving during the intervening season (1986–87) as a volunteer assistant to head coach Larry Brown at the University of Kansas; he rejoined Brown as an assistant with the Spurs in 1988–89. Popovich moved in 1992 to the staff of the NBA Golden State Warriors before returning to San Antonio in 1994–95 as executive vice president of basketball operations/general manager. He took over as the Spurs head coach after the first 18 games of the 1996–97 season. In 2003 Popovich was named NBA Coach of the Year.

      Off the court Popovich was cofounder (1991) of the Spurs/Pizza Hut Drug-Free Youth Basketball League. He was also a renowned wine connoisseur, with a 3,000-bottle collection in an aboveground cellar behind his home in San Antonio.

Phil Jasner

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Universalium. 2010.

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