Say the name "Gregg Popovich," and the image that pops to the front of most NBA fans' minds will likely be something stern, severe and serious. We think about stuff like the San Antonio Spurs head coach yelling about how he wants some nasty, screaming at his star point guard despite holding a double-digit lead in a playoff game, or giving any number of sideline reporters the silent treatment when interviewed during games. (That can happen after games, too.)
During a run of brilliance that has featured 17 consecutive playoff berths, 15 straight 50-win seasons and (now) six trips to the NBA finals, the three-time Coach of the Year has developed the public persona of a tactician, a taskmaster and an incomparably tough customer. Sure, he has softened somewhat as the years have gone by, but we still rarely see him really cut loose with the smiling and laughing ... which is why this moment from the Western Conference championship trophy presentation that followed the Spurs' 112-107 Game 6 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night stuck with me so much:
Feel free to pick your own descriptor for an eternal loop of Pop having fun like a real Silly Billy. I'm going to go with "unsettling," but also "heartwarming." (I keep thinking about the Grinch's heart breaking out of that little frame.)
In the interest of providing context, here's what preceded Pop's cheesin'. TNT's Ernie Johnson was interviewing Manu Ginobili, who finished with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in 33-plus minutes off the San Antonio bench in Game 6, and who played a major role as an ostensible point guard after starter Tony Parker was sidelined after halftime by an ankle injury. Johnson asked Ginobili to evaluate and discuss the coaching job that Popovich has done with this year's Spurs to help them bounce back from Games 6 and 7 of San Antonio's 2012-13 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat and put themselves back in position to exact revenge over the next two weeks.
"What can you say about this guy who doesn't want to really be center stage on this, Gregg Popovich, standing and listening and watching it, as we do this?" Johnson asked. "About the job that he has done with you this season?"
Manu's answer was, of course, perfect:
"It's OK," he deadpanned.
A two-word answer. After 12 years of doing stuff that makes you tear your hair out, Pop, the Argentine finally appears to be learning from you. I can't blame the coach for cutting up after that.
OK, now, that's enough. Dial it back, there, Dr. Giggles.
Now that's more like it.
Hat-tip to r/NBA.
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