AL HAMNIK: Popovich, Spurs a perfect fit

2009-10-30T00:00:00Z AL HAMNIK: Popovich, Spurs a perfect fitBy Al Hamnik - Times Columnist
October 30, 2009 12:00 am  • 

CHICAGO | Gregg Popovich has it going on, big time, as one of the NBA's most successful coaches and a projected Hall of Famer. But the only "marketing" he does is shopping for a fine wine and four-star restaurant at home and on the road.

Commercials? Endorsements? You gotta be kidding. Popovich treats the spotlight like a traffic stop, almost apologetic.

This is a guy who has always valued his team over his own standing in the league and that will never change.

He has no use for playground basketball, which is why NBA Commissioner David Stern shudders at the thought of Popovich's San Antonio Spurs playing for a fifth title this season.

They're too fundamental. Too boring. That's always been the rap against them by Stern and the networks.

A few years ago, Stern was asked for his dream championship matchup and reportedly said: "Lakers versus Lakers." He seemed to forget the 1966 Merrillville grad has had 12 consecutive winning seasons and 10 straight of 50 or more victories. Stern apparently prefers flash over substance and running a model franchise.

Popovich came home for Thursday night's Bulls season opener and brought a revamped team with several new and exciting players. He also shaved that Captain Ahab beard that made him look so old and tired a year ago.

"Now I look 80, right?" he said jokingly.

Popovich is often described as a "Renaissance Man" because of his world travels and love of the fine arts.

Take this past summer and his vacation to the Amazon. That's right. Endless swamp. Giant boas. Skeeters. Fever.

"A couple of high school and college buddies," Popovich said. "We went down there to do something 'different.' As you get older, you want to do something you haven't done before. I hadn't done that before -- and I'll never do it again."

Their homebase was not a Marriott.

"But it wasn't like we were prisoners of war for a week or anything like that," Popovich said.

You couldn't blame him for returning quickly to San Antonio, where new additions Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff and Keith Bogans were being fitted for their new uniforms.

"We feel like we're back in the ballgame," Popovich said. "We added younger legs, we're a little bit deeper and more talented. We were starting to get a little thin, talent-wise, compared to a lot of teams, especially in the West."

This is Popovich's 13th season. He quietly signed a contract extension last year that will keep him the head coach until the summer of 2012. There was no news conference, no official announcement from the Spurs. Pop didn't want it.

And he won't be talking NBA title until the Finals, if his Spurs get that far. New faces is just one step.

The Bulls were having their way inside during Thursday's first half and just plain outhustling their Western Conference visitors. Popovich barely sat, he was so upset, and unloaded on his team at halftime.

One security man swore the Spurs' dressing room was shaking like a palm tree in a storm.

Couldn't blame Pop. The Bulls led 47-46, thanks to 19 second-chance points.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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