San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is a future Hall of Fame coach who has garnered notoriety for his blunt and entertaining in-game interviews.
In an effort to give viewers more inside access of their favorite NBA teams, a stipulation was implemented seven years ago. Although sideline reporters had been fixtures for a while, the league was finding a mounting use for them to siphon information directly from the source. So, starting with the 2007-08 season, they decided to mandate interviews with the head coach of both teams before the start of the second and fourth quarters during nationally televised games.
Mostly, these interviews are platitude-and-cliché-ridden. But for San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich they have remained the antonym of stale. Bill Simmons ofGrantland wrote in 2009 that “subjects of hostage videos look happier than Pop during a mandatory in-game interview.” He’s right.
There’s a separate argument to be made regarding the groundwork of the rule. Aren’t these coaches paid to dispense advice? Aren’t they preoccupied with the complexities of the game — the matchups and momentum shifts scrutinized each and every night?
Regardless of your stance on the microphone-toting intruders, Popovich’s candidly blunt responses to the oft-meekly worded questions are wonderful. His brusque interactions with those brave enough to approach are captivating, and I’ve spent countless nights turning on Spurs’ games just to watch him.
We’ve even developed a term for it: Pop’d. Who would’ve thought we’d create a verb for someone who tersely responds to questions?
Let’s start with this: Gregg Popovich is very good at his job. He captains a ship that has sailed to 17 straight playoff berths, 15 consecutive 50-win seasons, and four NBA titles since 1999. It’s not surprising then, that he is as focused as they come when the opening tip is made.
As ESPN’s Marc Stein illustrated last year, interviewing Popovich has become a right of passage for sideline reporters. It’s a fearful, anxiety-prompting, Pop-induced panic. And it couldn’t be more entertaining to watch unfold.
This isn’t to say that every head coach dislikes in-game, on-court interviews. For example, it gets them away from the bench for a little while and—perhaps, there’s comfort in that. Understandably, coaches will be more flustered if their team’s trailing versus holding a sizeable lead. What’s different for Popovich is that he’s never satisfied. One of the most agitated coaches on any given night is the head coach of the Chicago Bulls Tom Thibodeau. As shown below, even Chicago’s throaty leader offers a less-frank dialogue.
Nice enough, right?
However, Gregg Popovich is not Thibodeau nor will he ever be. As reporters make the daunting trip from press row onto the floor near the Spurs’ bench, you can feel the tension begin to rise. Basketball isn’t a hobby for Coach Pop; it’s his profession, and he refuses to be ecstatic about the prospect of being taken away from his players when they need him.
TNT’s David Aldridge is a veteran reporter who began covering the NBA for the Washington Bullets in the late ‘80s. Even the old-timer still treads carefully around Popovich.
“There is nothing — nothing — that I do or people that I interview that fill me with as much agita as getting ready to interview Pop at the end of the third quarter of a Spurs home game. When San Antonio is on the road and I interview him at the end of the first [quarter], it’s much easier. If the Spurs stink it up, it’s obvious, as it is if they play well. But if they’re at home … good God.”
Aldridge is one of a handful of sideline reporters who have faced the legend with their dignity intact. Popovich’s relationship with TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, though, is widely recognized as the most entertaining combination the league offers. Coach Pop has lambasted him repeatedly over the years.
Popovich isn’t immune to rapport, though. Last month, Sager left his post to treat an acute leukemia diagnosis. In a statement issued to the league, Sager even mentioned the incredulous coach:
“Too bad, I had some probing questions for Pop.”
In the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Craig Sager, Jr. took his father’s place.
Sometimes it takes a genuine moment to remember Popovich’s humanity.
Arrived this morning to do a taped interview with Pop. He goes no, we're doing this live 3rd qtr just like your Dad. pic.twitter.com/RPAwIt7tvR
— Craig Sager II (@CraigSagerJr) April 20, 2014