Gregg Popovich chats with funnyman George Lopez at the 2011 All-Star Game (Andrew D. Bernstein/ Getty).
In addition to being one of best coaches in the NBA, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs can be a big grump. He's well known as one of the league's least forthcoming interview subjects, treats between-quarter talks with sideline reporters as a burden, and generally seems to like any sort of NBA-mandated public relations responsibilities. This lack of interest reached a new level of controversy in November, when Popovich sat four of his best players for a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat and earned the Spurs a $250,000 fine for his actions. In his view, the needs of the team should never come secondary to promotional interests.
On Wednesday night, the Spurs beat the Charlotte Bobcats 102-78, running their record to a conference-best 37-11 and ensuring that Popovich would coach the West in February's All-Star Game in Houton. Given his history, it stands to reason that Popovich might not have much interest in that job. Except, as he explained to reporters, he sees at as an immense honor. From Mike Monroe for The San Antonio Express-News (via SLAM):
Popovich earned his spot because the Spurs are guaranteed a better record than the Clippers on Sunday, the deadline for determining the coaches for the Feb. 17 showcase at Houston’s Toyota Center.
While it is still possible for Oklahoma City to have a better winning percentage than the Spurs, Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t allowed, by league rule, from coaching because he led the West at the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando.
“It will be just like it has been in the past: a heck of an opportunity to enjoy amazing talent,” Popovich said after his team’s 102-78 victory over the Bobcats. “That’s not just a B.S. or trite statement. It’s true. When you’re around those guys, you look around the room and you can’t believe you’re in the same room with them. It’s a huge honor just to be a part of it.”
Based on that reasoning, it's not especially surprising that Popovich would enjoy this responsibility. To him, the basketball is the point, and the All-Star Game stands as a game that pays tribute to the best players in the NBA. Popovich appreciates all they've accomplished and sees the game as a chance to be around that kind of greatness. Heck, he might even learn something from him.
The All-Star Game is barely a real basketball game, so it's not as if Popovich will treat it like he would a regular Spurs game. Plus, he has coached the West twice before (2005 and 2011), so it's not as if he's being naive about the experience. He knows it's loose.
We can only assume, then, that he approaches the All-Star Game with genuine awe. If that's the case, it's nice to think that a four-time NBA champion head coach can still look at the sport with some kind of wonder.
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- Gregg Popovich
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