Gregg Popovich would have you believe winning 700 career wins isn’t even worthy of this article. He said as much after the Spurs narrowly beat the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night 100-99.
“It doesn’t mean anything, other than that one has been in one place for a while and one has had good players, and so the wins come,” Popovich said. “That’s all it means. That’s the truth.”
I rarely disagree with Pop on anything, aside from starting Matt Bonner, but I’ve got to disagree with him on this one.
700 career wins isn’t something that comes around very often, and in fact only 16 coaches in NBA history have reached that milestone.
Only six other active coaches hold that distinction, and aside from Don Nelson, I consider them to be the elite among NBA coaches: Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, George Karl, Rick Adelman and Nelson.
Pop was Brown’s understudy in San Antonio and he has said he idolized Jerry Sloan, but to be in the same class with them is completely different. But there’s no doubt he deserves it, with a .673 winning percentage, a coach of the year award and four NBA Championships on his resume.
Taking a look back though, it’s interesting to think about where he started and where he is now.
After being fired along with Brown, R.C. Buford and the rest of the coaching staff in 1992, Pop made his return to San Antonio in 1994 as General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations.
Among his first moves in the front office were trading Dennis Rodman and bringing back fan favorites Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott.
But during the 1996-97 season, Pop fired Bob Hill after a 3-16 start and faced a firestorm of criticism from fans, and local and national media. The Spurs went on to a 17-47 record under Pop that season, which is his only season under .500 for the Spurs and the only season the Spurs have not been in the playoffs under his direction.
While Hill was considered a local celebrity, Pop was the anti-celebrity. You’ll never see Pop write a basketball book, do coaching videos, and he’s against anything promoting himself over his team.
But people soon forgot all about Hill when Pop took the Spurs to the NBA Finals in only his second full season as head coach. Pop and the Spurs have yet to look back. And with four titles in only 12 full years as head coach, is it any wonder why.
Aside from building a dynasty and a winning attitude in San Antonio, he’s built a sense of community, not just by supporting the San Antonio Food Bank and the Drug Free Youth Basketball League, but also by bringing in players that believe in giving back to the community.
I’m sure character is right along side high basketball IQ and defense on his scouting checklist. It’s no mistake that the Spurs always seem to bring in quality players who are also quality people, one of whom is Tim Duncan.
Pop has jokingly said he will retire when Duncan retires. It was fitting then, that Duncan was the player whose dunk over Roy Hibbert gave the Spurs the win and Pop his 700th.
Pop’s current contract takes him through 2012. By then, 700 will just be another number, but the Hall of Fame will surely be right around the corner.