Along with the great Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich is surely up there on the Mount Rushmore of NBA coaches. Having been an NBA head coach since 1996, Pop has become the longest-tenured active coach in the league to date.
In terms of accolades, Popovich doesn’t need any validation from anybody as he led the San Antonio Spurs to 5 NBA championships in 6 NBA Finals appearances. He also copped the NBA Coach of the Year award three times and is now the winningest coach of all time.
Popovich never played in the NBA
With an array of feats as a coach, it’s hard to believe that Popovich never laced up in the NBA during his playing years. After four seasons at the United States Air Force Academy, Popovich served five years in the United States Air Force and went to Europe and the Soviet Union with the U.S. Armed Forces Basketball Team. In 1972, he became captain of the team and won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship.
Popovich’s notable performances earned him an invite to the Olympic team tryouts. Indeed, he was on course to becoming an NBA star, but for some reason, he set his sights on coaching and returned to the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach. In 1994, Pop finally joined the Spurs and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pop thinks about it
If some of you think that Popovich may have thought about what if he played for the NBA, you’re right. In a rare interview in 2014, former Spurs star Danny Green revealed that Pop certainly believes he should’ve taken his talents to the NBA. What makes it even more interesting, Green thinks that the thought of it is one of the things that made Popovich a great coach.
“Because he believes he should’ve played in the NBA [chuckles],” Green said when asked what makes Popovich a good coach. “He should’ve been in a team before. He was pretty good himself. He knows the game. He studied the game. It’s what he does. It’s his life and he’s been pretty good at it so far. I’m sure he’s gonna continue being good at it.”
Some of us may consider Popovich’s story as a fun trivia or one of the most shocking NBA stories in history. But no matter how we look at it, the fact of the matter is that Pop proved he didn’t need to be an NBA player to become one of the best tacticians in the game.