After graduating high school, Gregg Popovich went to the United States Air Force Academy. Upon finishing the Academy, Pop served five years of acting duty. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Soviet Studies and underwent Air Force intelligence training - at one point, Pop considered joining the CIA. That tells you all you need to know about his sense of patriotism and how much coaching Team USA means to Gregg Popovich.
After they won the gold, Pop addressed the team in the locker room. He went through all the challenges the team had - from the media and fans questioning roster construction, losing a few games in Vegas and the first game against France, a few guys going into Covid protocol as the team was boarding the plane, several players joining them straight after the NBA Finals, etc. Emotional, holding back tears, Pop told the players how much winning despite all this meant to him.
“You guys went through all that stuff, and your families went through all that the same way. And that's why I'm so proud to be a part of this, it's like, the best feeling I ever had in basketball.”
After Ray Allen put a dagger right through their heart the year before, Tim, Manu, and Tony could've easily retired; conclude they missed their last chance. But they found the strength to come back even stronger and played the most beautiful basketball we've seen, resulting in Pop's fifth NBA title. With that in his CV, Pop got emotional talking about this Team USA and the gold medal they won.
But Pop being Pop, this entire speech was woven with disdain for media and anyone voicing their opinion. Shockingly, the man who spent his formative years in a military regime has a bunker mentality when it comes to transparency and the possibility that someone not in the inner circle gets to talk about Team USA - "all the pundits, all these people who think they know something." So after his emotional thank you to the team, Pop ended with a rhetorical question to all of us who follow the game and dare to have an opinion.
“I'd just like to say to all those people out there - HOW THE F**K YOU LIKE US NOW BI***ES???”
"Us against them" is a well-tested bonding technique. Find a common outside enemy to overcome internal differences. Early in his career, Pop decided the media and "pundits who think they know something" are the perfect target, and we see his intelligence training is still coming in handy.
Unfortunately for Pop, we will still ask questions, think about the game, create interest, and cover stories. You know, the stuff that brings in TV deals and helps sell tickets - expensive wine bottles don't buy themselves. If he wants to be less annoyed while sipping a nice Pinot Noir after another press conference, here's an idea - the Gregg Popovich Masterclass on covering basketball. Pop knows more about basketball and the inner workings of a team more than almost anyone. Maybe we could ask smarter questions and write better stories if some knowledge was shared with us.
I'm sure there were lessons on peaceful transitions and winning hearts and minds at the Air Force Academy. But if you share knowledge, and increase transparency, then the whole "us against them" becomes less effective, doesn't it?