Being the known boxing fan Gregg Popovich is (even going as far to use the sport during training camp for the team’s conditioning drills) I’m sure he’s well acquainted with the great career that Ezzard Charles had.
Besides engaging in some of the greatest fights in boxing history in the 40’s and 50’s, Charles is known for being a stylistic influence on Muhammed Ali. But even a large percentage of hardcore boxing fans have either just heard his name in passing or aren’t that familiar with his career. That’s what happens when you come from a small market and aren’t flashy. These two men’s careers take very similar paths, and both will only be remembered by their peers, historians and hardcore fan’s of their respective sports.
Ezzard Charles was a very unassuming war veteran from Cincinnati who was known for his exceptional defense and methodical approach on offense. He used this style to beat some of the greatest names in boxing history. He defeated Archie Moore, Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Wolcott and Joey Maxim. His grit and determination was so strong he was the only man ever to go 15 rounds with Rocky Marciano. He is regarded by many boxing historians to be the greatest Light-Heavyweight ever and one of the greatest heavyweights in history. Media outlets like ESPN and Ring Magazine have Charles rated above much more notable and ‘ sexier’ fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes and Jake Lamotta.
Gregg Popovich is also a military man and is hardly a braggart. His teams have become infamous for their excellence in defense and their methodical high-percentage offense. He has used this style to slay some of the biggest names in basketball history. Beating the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal, Lebron James and Steve Nash. The jury is still out on his legacy as I don’t think he is done winning championships. But when it’s all said and done he will be regarded as a top ten coach in NBA history. Flashier coaches and coaches from bigger markets get more media attention than Pop, but they don’t have the industry wide respect Popovich has.
Towards the end of Charles’ career his body slowed down as age catches up with everyone and he had to employ a new style to be effective. No longer could he rely on his quick athletic reflexes to save him defensively so he had to adjust and adjust he did. He started becoming a offensive oriented all action inside fighter. Because of this change in style he took part in some of the most memorable, action packed fights in boxing history and his career was reborn. Charles later on went toe-to-toe for 15 rounds with Rocky Marciano, one of the hardest hitting fighters to ever lace up the gloves.
As we can see the sun start to set on the core of his Spurs team, Pop also decided to employ a different style. Popovich saw his aging big man (Tim Duncan) didn’t have to be the center of his offense on a nightly basis. So he decided to implement an offense that is the basketball version of being an all action fighter. He created the new look run-and-gun Spurs. Because of this new style the Spurs have the best record in the NBA (29-6) and the Spurs are reborn championship contenders. We have yet to see the memorable playoff battles Popovich and the Spurs have with this new style. But whatever battles they have will be much more dramatic with this style of play.
Because these two men who are unquestionably great at their professions won’t be remembered but by a select few doesn’t matter. These two men belong to their respective sports and their long rich heritages. Both men were and are extremely influential in their sport.
You can see Popovich’s influence almost everywhere in the NBA. Everyone wants to copy the Spurs’ model for success. Spurs fans should enjoy that as not many get a coach that special to grace their franchise.