Gregg Popovich Rumors
Talk to players, coaches and executives who have worked with Gregg Popovich, and they’ll say these are the events that shaped him. Tremendous obstacles. Cold, hard truths. Popovich may float above the fray now, but he earned that ascent — one gritty step at a time. Ask Popovich about any of this and he’ll cut you off. None of it, he insists, resonates as much as you think it does. “My disappointments aren’t anything to do with what you mention,” he says. “They have to do with times we had opportunities to win a championship, and we didn’t.”
Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.” Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”
The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off. “I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.” Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).
Doug Collins, one of four future NBA coaches who tried out for the team — Popovich, Mike D’Antoni and George Karl were the others — concurs that the selection process was political. Collins says he felt he was one of the best guards in camp, but when he bumped into coach Tommy Heinsohn, who was scouting the trials for the Celtics, Heinsohn told him, “They may not pick you. There is politics involved. You better get someone to fight for you.” Collins called Will Robinson, his coach at Illinois State, who immediately hopped a plane to Colorado and began stumping for him. (Collins made the team).
Nelson hired Popovich at a time when he and his star player, Chris Webber, were barely speaking, so Popovich became the intermediary, the guy whose job it was to tell Webber the hard truths about himself. “Pop was great,” Nellie says. “He’d tell Chris, ‘You’re just silly. You don’t get it. You’ve got to mature.’ Too bad he [Webber] didn’t listen. It took him until he was 35 to get there, and by then it was too late for us.”
In a subsequent interview with USA TODAY Sports, James said, “It would be pretty amazing to be able to actually play for the greatest NBA coach of all time.” Krzyzewski will coach his final game for USA in Sunday’s gold medal game against Serbia, and Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs’ coach, will take over for the next Olympic cycle.