By now, all Spurs fans heard the news that former San Antonio Spur, Avery Johnson, is now the head coach of the New Jersey Nets and like most coaches or front-office personnel in the NBA, he took his first steps with the Spurs.
Johnson, best remembered by Spurs fans as the “Little General” helped the Spurs win their first NBA title in the 1999 NBA Finals versus the New York Knicks and for his heavy Louisiana accent.
But now that he is back in coaching, here is what Johnson’s former coach, Gregg Popovich, had to say about him:
“I needed a point guard who was a leader, and who could command respect of the group,” Popovich said. “So Avery was home watching TV, without a contract again, and I called him and said, ‘Avery, get your butt down here right now — I’m going to give you your first multi-year contract.’
“And I knew it would be the best move I’d ever make, because I knew his heart. He was just a competitive SOB.”
“He’s got a special mind — you’re going to see it in New Jersey, even if they’re going to be young,” Popovich said of Johnson. “He taught himself what it takes to be successful in the league, and since then he’s taught others. He’ll get a defensive mentality established with the group. He’ll get Devin (Harris) in attack mode. He’ll adjust regardless of what personnel they get there.
“You know I hate superlatives, and how people exaggerate. I mean, the only ‘geniuses’ I know are people who do medical research. So I don’t want to overstate this, but Avery has a brilliant basketball mind. I knew it way back when, and I know it now.”
After his time with the Spurs, Johnson moved on to become the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks. It was surprising to hear from Spurs fans who called him a “traitor” for joining the rival Mavericks.
Though things did not work out in Dallas, he did win an NBA Coach of the Year award and his jersey is now retired in San Antonio. Johnson knows it all began in San Antonio and especially with Popovich. And no matter what, he will always be a Spur in the hearts of Spurs fans.