On Monday, February 9, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Pacers, 95-93. But it was more than just a win. For coach Gregg Popovich, it was his 1,000th career victory as an NBA head coach. He’s the ninth coach, and the third fastest, to reach the milestone. And he’s now among some of the best coaches of all time in the 1,000-win club, including Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Rick Adelman, George Carl, and Larry Brown, under whom Popovich started his career as an assistant in San Antonio.
Asked how he felt about the accomplishment, the ever-modest Popovich replied that his players are the ones who have done his job for him. “I've been here a long time, and I've had good players,” Popovich told reporters after the game. “That's the formula. Getting the players is difficult, but I've been fortunate. The time, that's the most important element. You have to be around for awhile.”
San Antonio’s coach has never liked being in the spotlight and always deflects attention by crediting his players. He is well known for his dry, matter-of-fact responses to members of the media.
Popovich began his career as a head coach in 1996 and has earned all 1,000 (and counting) of his wins in San Antonio. He joined Jerry Sloan as the only other coach to win 1,000 games with one team. And of the nine 1,000-win coaches, Popovich holds the second best winning percentage (.684), behind former Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson (.704). Popovich has won 50 games or more in each of the last 15 seasons, and the Spurs have won five of the six NBA Finals in which they have appeared. He’s only missed the playoffs once — in his first season.
Popovich has had an impact on the NBA in many ways, one of which is how many coaches have learned from him as assistants in San Antonio and have gone on to be head coaches themselves or other management roles. Currently, Monty Williams, Steve Kerr, Mike Budenholzer, and Brett Brown all are head coaches, and Danny Ferry is the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks.
Forward Tim Duncan has been with Popovich for 929 of his 1,000 wins. That’s enough to be the second most wins for a player-coach duo. The relationships the coach has built with Duncan and longtime Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have grown so much over the years. Over 13 seasons, Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, also known as the Big Three, have played exceptionally well together and have won four titles as a trio.
Popovich has brought a winning, team-first culture to the Alamo City, which has made the Spurs a model franchise in all of professional sports. He has also succeeded in turning a small-market team into a worldwide success. San Antonio has nine international players on its roster, which has earned the team fans from countries such as France, Argentina, and Australia. The Spurs have played a big role in making the NBA more popular all over the world.
What Popovich has done for the city of San Antonio, the Spurs organization, and for the NBA makes him a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Photo: Darron Cummings/AP Photo