Assessing the Greatness of Gregg Popovich

Not that he needed it to cement his place in annals of great basketball coaches, but San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich finally recorded his 1,000th win when his San Antonio Spurs beat the Indiana Pacers, 95-93, Monday night.

The achievement was inevitable, but now that his has that landmark win, people will begin to discuss his place among other coaching legends. So, where does he stand all time?

When you start thinking about the best NBA coaches of all time, you likely start with Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson. Well now that we’re at it, you should make some room for Popovich, too. If we’re doing a Mount Rushmore of NBA coaches, Popovich’s face would certainly have to be up there.

As the longest tenured coach in the NBA (as well as among the four major sports for that matter), Popovich has been a constant symbol of sustained success for almost two decades. Now in his 19th season with the Spurs, he has been a model of consistency and excellence and it’s time we appreciate his contributions to the game.

Let’s break down some of his key numbers and accomplishments:

1,000: Career NBA wins

5: Number of NBA Championships

6: Conference championships, ranking third best among NBA coaches

17: Number of consecutive winning seasons, which corresponds with 17 straight playoff appearances.

11: Number of division crowns won in 18 years

0: Number of losing seasons with Tim Duncan by his side

9: Rank in all-time coaching wins

7: Rank in playoff win percentage (.623) among NBA coaches

One of the main argument points working in Popovich’s favor as the best coach ever is that he has not had super stars to work with outside of Duncan. As good as Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been, it does not compare to the talent Auerbach had in Boston (Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn) or Jackson had in Chicago (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) or Los Angeles (Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant).

NBA: JUN 10 NBA Finals - Spurs at Heat - Game 3

Popovich’s deliberate and methodical approach to the game is something to truly marvel. He is very cerebral, detail-oriented and he is always ahead of the game. Popovich preaches teamwork and togetherness and that no one is above the game. The humility and humbleness he has instilled on his team is something to behold. And it is behind those beliefs that has made the Spurs a dynasty, while also making Popovich the coaching legend he is.

What also makers Popovich special is that the Spurs has been his only head coaching job. He never cut his teeth elsewhere and was humbled by losing early in his career. Popovich has only know winning since he came into the league. If not for a season-ending injury to star David Robinson that rendered him to playing only six games in Popovich’s first season back in the 1996-97 season, well, Popovich could have conceivably never had a losing season. Then again, that’s a tradeoff that Popovich will take, as it was that losing season that resulted in the Spurs getting the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft, in which they selected Duncan.

And as they say, the rest is history.

In an era defined by flashiness and theatrics, Popovich has kept the Spurs grounded and to be all about team basketball. You won’t see many of his players end up on top-10 highlight reels. Seriously, when does a fundamental bounce pass make that type of list?

Popovich only knows one gear and that is the passion to win and do whatever it takes in regards to reaching that goal. Some people will be put off by his cantankerous, grating personality. However, that is just his “game face” if you will. Popovich develops a new character when he is coaching, while  just concentrating at the task at hand. From all accounts, Popovich is a completely different person off the court.

You have to at least admire his brilliance, as there likely has not been a coach who outsmarts his opponent more than Popovich. He embodies coaching in all its forms and definitions. He is a modern-day renaissance man

Love him or hate, him, you have to respect him.

So, congrats Pop on 1,000 victories!

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