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Perception of Popovich changes, even if he hasn’t
The basketball looked unwatchable, making the first-quarter break must-see TV.
Gregg Popovich didn’t disappoint.
Asked by ESPN’s reporter what went wrong for the San Antonio Spurs offensively early in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Popovich responded: “Turnovers.” Asked a follow-up, he answered again: “Turnovers.”
Two questions, two words, and one more highlight for his YouTube collection.
Those still unfamiliar with the coach called Pop were left to wonder: Is he just a man with little to say? Or is he inconsiderate, or maybe just flat-out mean?
The answer appears to have changed, even if Popovich hasn’t.
“I don’t think Pop has changed, other than the fact that he enjoys his wine a little bit more now,” former Spur Bruce Bowen said.
But as Popovich readies for his fifth NBA Finals as San Antonio coach, his first since 2007, something seems different. The franchise that never cared if you liked the way it played no longer relies on a style that’s boring, and people have a more appreciative view of its architect.
Long respected for his basketball brilliance, Popovich has won over _ or just outlasted _ all those who didn’t like his exterior.
“I think he’s always been somebody who people will like,” said Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich and now works games for TNT. “Like the reporters who actually took the time to get to know him and were given that opportunity to get to know him, I think they all enjoy him because they see how interesting he is and they see how genuine he is.
“Yeah, he can be pretty brash _ not brash, he can be sort of gruff, I guess, is the right word _ so if people don’t know him or they don’t really take the time and they just sort of assume he’s mean or a bad guy. But he’s always been really interesting and fun. He just might not let you in.”
That was easy for much of the nearly two decades since he took over as Spurs general manager in 1994, a couple years before becoming their coach. The Spurs never looked for attention and few particularly cared to give them any, making Popovich a perfect fit.
But he’s become something of a star in the social media age, where every game is on League Pass, news conference videos are online and every moment is analyzed on Twitter. Instead of only occasional chances to make an impression _ which was frequently bad _ Popovich has become a case of the more people see, the more they like.
Take the Spurs‘ game in Miami this season. Fans howled when Popovich cut off Charles Barkley when the Hall of Famer attempted to ask a third question during the between-periods timeout _ the rule is two _ then largely took his side when the NBA fined the Spurs $250,000 the next day for Popovich’s decision to send his stars home early from their long road trip instead of facing the Heat.
At 64, Popovich’s biggest concern often seems finding his next good dinner and bottle of wine. Basketball doesn’t cause much worry, whether he’s battling the defending champs or the league office.
By John R. Bolton
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