Beyond the long-running legacy of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich will be attached to perhaps the most successful and accommodating system in NBA history for international talent. The San Antonio Spurs coach reminisced about his first international experience during last week’s visit to Boston. “My first year in the league was in ’88 with coach (Larry) Brown, and I didn’t know jack, but I knew I wanted to go overseas, so I begged him to let me go over for the ’88 European Championships in Koln, Germany,” Popovich said. “The only other NBA guy in the room was (Don Nelson). There was nobody else in there. That’s when he was bringing Sarunas Marciulionis back (from Lithuania). “I was like a kid in a candy store looking around,” he said. “That’s when Yugoslavia was Yugoslavia and they had that team. It was ridiculous. The Russians were really good when they were the Soviet Union; players everywhere. I knew early on it was a market we wanted to tap. That’s why we did (Tony) Parker at (pick No.) 28, and Manu (Ginobili) in the 50s, and (Luis) Scola after him.
After Team USA’s crushing loss in the 1988 Olympics to the Soviets (the Americans were reduced to bronze medal status), Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had been assigned to help the US regain its pride, taking a team that included Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning, and Billy Owens to Buenos Aires for the Worlds. The Yugoslavs shook off a preliminary-round loss to Puerto Rico to knock off the Americans in the semifinals and then the archrival Soviets in the gold medal game. “People talk about the 1992 American team being the Dream Team — well, this was our Dream Team from Europe,’’ said Vlade Divac, the former Laker and King. “We had a great team with a lot of guys who played in the NBA. We were special.’’