“One of Gregg Popovich’s secrets in plain sight has been the way he builds a bench and employs them and trusts them so much during the regular season that he can rest his starters so much and still win so many games. He doesn’t have better reserves than other teams, and he loses guys regularly. But his players abide by their system of play and he relies on them and trusts them. It’s a big part of coaching (and running any successful business), making your employees feel a part of the organization and success and trusting them and taking an interest in their fate. “
From his college coach Steve Fisher:
“If you’re around him like we were for two years, you saw the work ethic that he had and the competitiveness to where you knew that he was going to continue to get better.”
“I’ve never had a guy work the way he does when nobody is watching. He just wants to get in the gym, doesn’t want anybody to know. But he wants to be in that gym 24-7. And he’s in there to work on his game. He doesn’t just put in time. He’s working.”
“He truly is someone that has a fierce desire to get better. He’s going to be one who will not come in and be satisfied to sign a contract, then get another contract, be messing with the money. He’s going to want to be very good.”
“Once you have a whole group on the same page, each individual tends to play better.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: “He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder or trying to make a statement, he’s just playing. He’s getting better all the time, and getting more confident. We’re getting him more and more room, and you’re seeing a young player blossom.”
More from Pop: “He stole it from Curry the other night, just took it from him and went down and dunked it, and his expression did not change. He didn’t raise his fist or look cool to the crowd or do any of this stupid-ass stuff. He didn’t do a thing. He just goes the other direction, like he’s bored to death. I love that about him.”
Tim Duncan on his teammate: “He’s not doing it the wrong way. He’s taking great shots and continuing to be unselfish, but he’s absolutely being aggressive. That’s what we need from him.”
On a loss to the New York Knicks:
“We didn’t respect the game, we didn’t respect our opponent. It was a pathetic performance and I hope that every player is embarrassed. Not because ‘we are supposed to win the game’ but it is about how you play the game.”
“It takes a lot of hard work to get to the NBA. There are millions of guys in the world who want to be there. I’m not the most talented player in the league, but it isn’t all about talent. It’s also about hard work and dedication.”
On the San Antonio Spurs:
“Everybody knows everybody … the way they backdoor [cut], pass the ball, share the ball, defend, that’s where we’re trying to get.”
By Ettore Messina
Two things really stood out for me from the start. The first happened on August, 18th.
In the morning I took my son to school, dropped him off there and went to the office to watch some film. Can you guess who was at the gym when I arrived? Right, Tim Duncan. On his own, working to get himself into shape.
Just imagine: August, 18th. That was like “pre- preseason,” about a month and a half before actual preseason started. And a superstar, a legend was already there doing conditioning and working on fundamentals. This one example gives you the best possible idea on what the Spurs are all about and what their philosophy is.
Then on September, 1st it was time to start what they call “open gym”.
Basically, that meant the assistant coaches were to come to the gym early in the morning every day to help the players get into shape. That’s 100% voluntary for the players. But with the exception of guys who spent the summer with their National Teams, everybody was there. Guys like Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili were rehabbing from injuries. Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and all the young players were working on their skills. Again, this is the philosophy of the club that the players share.
One of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the “we can’t skip any steps” principle.
The Spurs do things together. There’s a lot of respect for everybody, and everybody is expected to give his or her opinion and help the group. It’s a unique philosophy of working together and facing adversity together as well. Coach Popovich has this rare ability to combine his demanding nature with the most sincere care for everyone within the organization. Players, management, coaches, doctors, physiotherapists – he cares about all of them. And that makes everyone proud to be a part of the organization. This is family first, basketball club second.
Also, one of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the “we can’t skip any steps” principle. It means there’s time and place for every process. You always start from the basics here and then go on to the most intricate things. At the beginning of the training camp we went over the fundamentals of offense and defense. Passing, catching, pivoting, sliding, moving without the ball – it was as if we were a junior team. That’s one of the major messages coach Popovich sends out to his players: techniques are much more important than tactics. You have to master the fundamentals and then you need the desire to compete every day, meaning that every day you have to come in ready to play.
It’s still quite early in the season, we’ve played around 20 games. And even on game days at our morning shootarounds we always go over defensive drills just to remind the players how important footwork and positioning are. There’s a lot of attention to small things, everybody’s really focused.
Coach Pop always speaks of the Spurs as a “program.”
Coach Popovich always says he’s lucky that the Big 3 “has allowed him to coach the team.” What he means is that the three stars are ready to accept criticism, ready to be challenged, ready to lead the team during games and in practice.
Being around coach Pop is a constant learning experience. Here you learn to handle different situations. You see how he relates to players right after he criticizes or praises them, how he addresses the team during games, how and when he uses timeouts, which plays he calls, how he talks to the players at half-time, how he tries to squeeze the max out of his team during the last two minutes of every quarter – the list goes on and on.
What’s interesting is that he always pushes his coaching staff to argue with him. Sometimes he reminds me one of those Greek philosophers, the sophists, who tried to find the truth through arguments. He really encourages discussion and variety of opinions, seeing them as a means to improve as a unit.
Coach Pop always speaks of the Spurs as a “program.” Which was weird at first, because in the US the term is usually reserved for college teams. But what he implies is that there’s a strong togetherness of ownership, management and coaching staff here. And great communication as well.