Gregg Popovich

Gregg Popovich: King of the Region Rats

Gregg Popovich

As if you didn’t need another reason to cheer for the Spurs…

Many of you know San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich, and many also know about his roots being from the Region.

Coach Popovich actually was born in East Chicago and graduated from Merrillville High School in 1966. He almost ended up playing at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. after he wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. Taking matters into his own hands, Popovich enrolled at the Air Force Academy, where he was team captain and leading scorer on the basketball team that year.

The style of basketball that Popovich has the Spurs playing right now is truly reminiscent of Hoosier basketball. In a league where everyone is quick to assemble a ‘Big 3’, a core group of three star basketball players assembled for a championship run, the Spurs play a team basketball that would make Bobby Knight blush. Probably explains why our very own Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined him in 2009, which of course begs the obvious question, what took them that long?

Here’s a flash of some of that grind-it-out attitude you can clearly see in Popovich’s coaching style in how he handles his players and the games he coaches:

The sports world just isn’t yet prepared to glorify a team built on sacrificing individual glory for the betterment of those around you (just look at their reaction when LeBron James dares to pass the ball). Most region sports fans have embraced this new gritty but embattled Bulls team through the playoffs, and adopted the Pacers as they valiantly fought the Heat’s ‘Big 3’. The media is quick to try to name a ‘Big 3’ for the Spurs consisting of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. After Game 3’s convincing Spurs victory, the result of a three-point barrage for the record books, it became clear that the Spurs were going to win games by team play on both ends of the floor. The Spurs style of basketball represents the antithesis of this new style of ‘Big 3’ team creation; bought, not built.

But this team-oriented, blue-collar, efficient style of play wasn’t an accident, and the Spurs have remained largely unnoticed in comparison to teams fielding superstars in bigger TV markets. Since his hiring in 1995, Popovich has coached the Spurs to an under-the-radar dynasty that has secured 4 NBA championships in his tenure. His Northwest Indiana roots reveal much about how Popovich’s style of coaching has been influenced by growing up in Northwest Indiana, and area of Indiana that embodies that kind of culture.

“What separates him is his drive and determination,” said Arlie Pierce, a close friend since high school who was the best man in Popovich’s wedding. “He was intelligent going back to high school, but he really put his nose to the grindstone. His mother and stepfather worked at Inland Steel (in East Chicago) and I think that work ethic and sacrifice was ingrained in him through them. I don’t think he saw steel in his future, though.” The thousands and thousands of Northwest Indiana fans who eagerly cheer on Gregg Popovich towards his 5th ring are okay with that.

Even Coach Popovich’s halftime interviews, as concise as they are, are in a typical hard-nosed, no-nonsense manner which screams ‘Region Rat’. When the media wants some really insightful and team-revealing content to up their ratings, good ol’ Gregg stonewalls most reporters into an awkward silence that no follow-up can cure. Here are some nuggets of Coach Pop’s greatest moments:

Pops doesn’t play around, and he sure as hell isn’t there to please reporters, or even really contribute their production. While he is kind-hearted and a gentleman by nature, his demeanor seems to say, ‘I got a team to get back to and you’re keeping me from them’. Basically describes every look on his face during these interviews.

And inevitably the commentary from the peanut gallery is popping up all around the web regarding Popovich’s unique style of addressing the media. The problem is now that these interviews have become such a novelty that people are actually loving them. The media were bested by a classic Northwest Indiana tactic and now they’ve began the process of embracing our culture and speech in order to make it a more viewer-friendly story.

“The self-deprecating dumb jokes are just another Popovich smoke screen.”

If you’re from Northwest Indiana, you eventually find out the rest of Indiana shuns you to an extent, and Illinois is about as quick to embrace the Region as we are to embrace their driving abilities. Self-deprecating jokes embracing some of the misunderstood stereotypes about our culture has become a self-defense mechanism most region rats develop.

 

 

Clearly, @regionratrants perfectly demonstrates how to utilize this idea of self-deprecation as a form of entertainment we all can enjoy (well, as long as you’re over 18, it’s not always the cleanest form of self-deprecation). But for the sake of the story, writers all over the sports world need to dig into their thesauruses to find the entertaining combination of words when they aren’t provided first hand.

“Popovich marches to his own idiosyncratic beat, all right. But it probably helps to know he cut his NBA teeth at the knee of former Spurs coach Larry Brown, who’s always set a high bar for tortured basketball geniuses or indulging personal peccadilloes without inhibition.”

 

 

The media perceive Popovich’s coy nature as some ploy, some game, some part of the whole ‘off the court’ part of basketball. Media has been spoiled by their own circus-like antics and created a mythos around the Miami Heat that lends itself more to fiction than journalism. Truth of the matter is its just basketball- no bullshit, no theatrics, no hype. Just basketball. Settle the matters out on the court, and that’s what we so often do. It took Merrillville High School until 2005 to convince Gregg Popovich to retire his jersey, as he so modestly recalls: “I don’t know why they want to do it now. My scoring average hasn’t changed in 40 years.”

Region basketball has never been about complicated rankings or one-and-done ‘student athletes’; we’re about hard-nosed basketball teams who play team defense and settle it out on the floor. And it makes sense that Popovich would be bringing a taste of Northwest Indiana basketball to the NBA, as its style is engrained in his appreciation of the game. Once asked the question about his early basketball influences, Coach Popovich provided an uncharacteristically detailed answer (for good reason, it’s about the Region):

“East Chicago Washington players. Washington had a gym that sat 5,000 people. That’s where I grew up. If you were in East Chicago growing up, you played basketball. You’d go up to Gary and watch the guys from Gary Tolleston and Gary Froebel. You’d go to the outside courts and play in the summer. At that time it wasn’t about the NBA or college or anything like that. Everything was happening right there in Gary and East Chicago.”

Region basketball runs in Coach Popovich’s veins, as does Northwest Indiana itself. He has even partnered with the Gary Chamber of Commerce in the past as a featured speaker in their fundraising efforts. He isn’t quick to forget where he came from, and he’s been extremely generous in his philanthropic efforts in his hometown community, as well as his adopted one in San Antonio. Clearly, Texas has been graced with the presence of a native Hoosier and Northwest Indiana resident to instill a bit of region culture and values into their community. And clearly, it’s also paying large dividends, has Gregg Popovich has become just a fixture in the San Antonio community as he has always been in Northwest Indiana’s.

Citations and Credits:

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame: http://www.hoopshall.com/hall-of-fame/gregg-popovich/?back=HallofFame

ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/commentary/news/story?id=6202101

The Indianapolis Star: http://www.indystar.com/article/20130605/SPORTS/306050072/NBA-Finals-all-started-Northwest-Indiana-Spurs-coach-Gregg-Popovich

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About Dave Wichlinski

Dave is a jack-of-all-trades (and a master of some), he is a Wabash College graduate and calls the Region home. Dave is a diehard Bears and Cubs fan and a recent Colts convert. He'll talk to you about sports, politics, philosophy, 2% milk and pogs. Dave doesn't exactly trust atoms, mainly because they make up everything. And don't bring up the White Sox, the Easter Bunny, or the fact that somehow the Fast and Furious movies are still making money. Dave used to be in a band called 'Missing Cat', you've probably seen one of their posters up on a lamp pole somewhere in the Region.

5 thoughts on “Gregg Popovich: King of the Region Rats

  1. pog

    I loved reading your article. I feel you took otherwise boring information and turned it into new and fresh content. I am very impressed with your vast knowledge and insight.

  2. friv250

    This article is brilliant. It has really made me think and that’s the kind of writing I enjoy reading the most. Thank you for this well written material and information.

  3. hoisin bo

    Pop loves the Game, unlike the many celebrities today who just happen to play basketball for fame and fortune. This is the difference: Pop is a basket ball coach. He is not a Nike shoe salesman. He isn’t a Hanes underwear pitchman. He doesn’t need to drink Gatorade. He just needs basketball. Real basketball fans, not the poseurs who have season tickets at the Staples center but never go, should watch and appreciate Pop. Men like him have respect and integrity for the game. Let’s hope basketball trumps circus tonight. It’s game 7. Go Spurs.

  4. Benji

    in an NBA today where even the Coach of the Year can get fired the year he wins the friggin’ award (a la George Karl), it’s quite the achievement that Pops has almost two decades of coaching tenure and success at basketball’s highest level

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