Don’t expect Gregg Popovich to go the Coach K retirement ceremony route

Don’t expect Gregg Popovich to go the Coach K retirement ceremony route


A media-driven farewell retirement tour isn’t Gregg Popovich’s style.
Image: Getty Images

Going out to dinner with Gregg Popovich is up there with golfing with Charles Barkley, gambling with Michael Jordan, watching football with John Madden, and talking shit with Gary Payton on the list of activities with sports figures that sound like fun. As awesome as good food and better wine with Coach Pop sounds, I think 18 with Chuck, a cigar, and some adult beverages is No. 1.

However, a list that Pop is soon to be indisputably atop of is most career wins by an NBA head coach. The Spurs continued the Lakers’ spiral, beating LA 117-110 on Monday, and clinched win No. 1,335 for the 26-year coach. He’s tied with Don Nelson, who needed 31 seasons and four different teams to reach that total, for most wins. One more San Antonio W, the only kind of victory he’s ever known, is all that’s needed to put Pop in uncharted territory.

The five-time NBA champion and three-time coach of the year will be a Hall of Famer whenever he’s eligible, and if the Basketball Hall of Fame did actual Hall of Fame things, like having a selection process that included the possible distinction of being a unanimous choice, Popovich would surely earn that honor, as well. And as long as we’re talking about hypothetical accomplishments, if there was a coaching Mount Rushmore for America’s four major pro sports, he would probably be on that, too. (Phil Jackson sleeping/fishing through his Knicks’ tenure stopped chisels before they even got started.)

There are rumors he could retire after this season, which would be understandable because he’s the oldest active NBA coach, but also a little saddening because he’s the most honest pre-, post-, and mid-game interview — even if he’s pretty fucking surly while doing them. Part of it is no-nonsense schtick, and part of it is a disregard for media narratives.

He may try to come off as a Ron Swanson “I don’t have time for feelings” type, but real human emotions have seeped through that facade. His relationship with longtime and now-deceased TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager was one of the most genuine friendships you’ll see, as evidenced by the way the Air Force veteran embraced the Sager family during Craig’s battle with cancer.

There also have been a plethora of news conferences where he’s been a vocal voice of reason on numerous topics unrelated to basketball, including mask mandates, Donald Trump, police killing Black people, the Second Amendment, and so on. He called former Vice President Mike Pence “an obsequious man” in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots, saying “We know it probably won’t happen,” referring to a potential use of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president to determine that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

I’d feel stupid going out to eat with him because I’d be met with a blank glare after going all Chris Farley show and asking him, “Remember that time you beat the Miami Heat in the Finals? That was awesome.” (Maybe it was Pop’s taste in Pinot and steakhouses that led to Kawhi Leonard’s departure because it couldn’t have been his conversation.)

The Spurs coach has never had time for the bullshit, and that’s why he hates your “Talk about…” non-question questions. It’s also why it makes total sense that this could be his last year on the job.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he, like the best player he ever coached, Tim Duncan, quietly announced his retirement via a team statement over the summer. The farewell ceremonies and goodbye gifts are better suited for someone who would enjoy them. Can you imagine him taking part in the histrionics of Coach K’s final season? Something tells me he’d just roll his eyes and tell the refs to jump the ball up after being gifted a rocking chair or some not-that-clever commemoration, like a piece of a court.

The only fans he cares about are in San Antonio, and they’ll get their chance to give him a worthy send-off next season when they honor him with a ceremony at half-time — or quietly announce he’s in attendance, whichever he prefers. (Do teams retire quarter-zip pullovers to the rafters?)

He’s won titles and gold medals. His .658 win percentage is sixth all time among coaches with more than three seasons (via SportingNews). He took the Spurs to the playoffs 22 years straight. He’s about to have more wins than anyone who’s ever manned the sidelines in the NBA.

The only thing left to do is make sure he leaves San Antonio better off than he found it, and regardless of what you think about Dejounte Murray or Lonnie Walker, the organization is better off for having him.

The same goes for the NBA.





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.