by Mike Monroe
When Gregg Popovich secured his 800th victory, he gave passing recognition to the accomplishment, sharing its significance with the only NBA organization for which he’s been a head coach.
“We’ve all achieved 800 wins,” he insisted. “I haven’t, really.”
Popovich is on the cusp of another milestone, having entered Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers with 897 career wins, about to join a select group of NBA coaches in the 900-win club.
When Popovich reaches the milestone, he’ll be the 12th coach in league history with that many wins. At least one of his contemporaries believes he stands above all of them.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the highly respected president of the NBA Coaches Association, asserts Popovich is the greatest coach in league history.
“I’ve said this before,” Carlisle said before Popovich and Co. beat Dallas on Thursday night.
“I think he’s the greatest coach in NBA history because he’s kept basically the same system, with adjustments, over 17 years.
“If you count up the number of different players who have been here, he has plugged that many different guys into it and still had wild levels of success, and then four championships, spread out over eight or 10 years, and they’re right on the cusp again.”
By unofficial count, 134 players have worn silver and black under Popovich. Each has learned he demands devotion to one guiding principle.
“It’s not about you,” said Stephen Jackson, in his second stint under Popovich. “It’s about the betterment of the team and organization.”
Popovich calls this “getting over yourself,” something he learned at the Air Force Academy in the late 1960s. It’s not a concept easily absorbed by 20-something instant millionaires.
“What separates Pop is his communications,” Jackson said. “A lot of coaches don’t know how to talk to guys who make more money, how to get respect from guys, but the thing about Pop is he’s as real as they come. He don’t sugarcoat nothing.”
Something else separates Popovich from the 11 coaches in the 900-win club: None coached only one NBA team. This has given Popovich an edge most coaches envy.
“He’s very clear getting his point across and getting his team to do what he wants” said Manu Ginobili, whose free-flowing game initially clashed with some of Popovich’s principles. “If not, he’s not going to play you. There are a lot of coaches in this league that really can’t get that across because if you don’t have that much power in your franchise, and if you are not good with your star, you are gone.”
In 10-plus seasons with the Spurs, Ginobili has watched Popovich adapt the Spurs’ system to leverage personnel and league rules and trends.
“He’s a great student of the game,” he said. “He watches, he thinks, he tweaks things. He dedicates a lot of time to the game and has a great group of coaches.”
Carlisle has watched the Spurs morph from an inside-out team built around defense in the late 1990s and early 2000s into one of the league’s fastest-paced. But he is just as impressed by Popovich’s ability to get his team back among the league’s best defensively.
“From the perspective of how this team has evolved over that period of time, he has been an innovator in how the game is played,” Carlisle said. “He’s adjusted his system to his personnel, and they’ve been able to interchange parts and get younger at the right times, all those kinds of things.”
Link to rest of story: Spurs Nation
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