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- Basketball coach
Every sport has its own coaching trees, from the redwood-like Bill Walsh one in the NFL to the intricate Dean Smith/North Carolina one in college and professional basketball. However, Smith's tree technically began with Bob Spear, the coach at Air Force from 1956 to 1971. Smith served as an assistant coach at Air Force in the '50s, and Spear also coached and taught San Antonio Spurs boss Gregg Popovich before he started on the bench.
There's a longstanding connection between Air Force and UNC, and that's partially how Popovich and Hall of Famer Larry Brown became good friends. But one of their first interactions wasn't so nice. When Popovich tried out for Team USA during the 1972 Olympic trials, Brown dismissed him early in the process. From an interview with Dan McCarney for Spurs Nation:
How did your relationship with Pop develop?
Coach (Dean) Smith worked for Bob Spear at the Air Force Academy, that was his first job. Then he went to (North) Carolina. Pop went to Air Force and played for Bob Spear. Matter of fact, I was on an Olympic team, I was one of the qualifying coaches when Pop tried out, and we got to meet there through Coach Spear.
Just to interrupt, what kind of ballplayer was Gregg?
He was great. If he'd have gone to a major college he probably would have been an NBA player. He was a surprisingly gifted athlete and unbelievably tough. But I ended up cutting him. He tried out for the Denver Nuggets and I cut his ass. But we always stayed close. One year he took a sabbatical (in the mid 1980s) and was going to stay at North Carolina for a while and then come with me (at Kansas). He ended up staying with me the whole year. When I was offered the Spurs job, I asked him to come with me. He was best man at my wedding and we've been close (ever since). Again, there's no better guy, no better coach, than him.
Brown goes on to speak even better of Pop's work in San Antonio, reiterating that there's no one better at this job and calling the Spurs' long-term success a tribute to his demeanor and skill. On the other hand, there's something pretty funny about his gleeful remembrances of cutting Popovich from Team USA and the Nuggets. If he wasn't still a little proud of it, he probably wouldn't have said he "cut his ass," you know?
I don't mean to say that Brown dislikes Popovich — this is pretty clearly a case of two friends ragging on each other like good friends do. Nevertheless, it's pretty great to imagine Brown holding these events over Pop for the rest of their lives. No matter how many more championships Popovich wins — including one over Brown's Pistons in 2005 — he'll always be the guy who got cut twice by one of his best friends.