Rising to the top spot as a basketball coach is no easy task – you can ask any of the 30 NBA coaches, and they’ll attest to that fact. A combination of hard work, dedication, and determination is the cornerstone of any head coach hopeful, and the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich is no exception.
Popovich was born in 1949, and since then, has become one of just a handful of NBA coaches who have won a championship at least five times. His journey from the U.S. Air Force Academy to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy with the San Antonio Spurs five times is inspirational, of course, but goes to show how devotion and commitment to honing his coaching chops really paid off. Let’s take a look at the steps Coach Pop took to reach the top.
Journey to the San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich graduated from Merrillville (Indiana) High School in 1966, and from there, spent four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he played basketball all four years and graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in Soviet studies. After serving in the Air Force (and playing on the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team), he began his coaching career when he became the assistant coach of that same team in 1973, where he remained for six years.
In 1979, Pop got a job as an assistant professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he also served as the men’s basketball head coach. He took a sabbatical from 1986 to 1987 and spent some volunteer time with Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks. Popovich then spent one more season with Pomona-Pitzer, and then followed Brown to San Antonio for the 1988-89 season (Brown, who had just won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, departed Lawrence and became the Spurs’ head coach that following year, leading the way for Pop to join him in Texas).
Popovich started his Spurs career as assistant coach, a job he held from 1988 to 1992, and then held the same position for the Golden State Warriors for two seasons. He then returned to San Antonio in 1994, not as a coach, but as the Spurs’ executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager.
In 1996, however, Popovich was named head coach and has since led the Spurs and their fans on one heck of a ride. He coached them to their first NBA championship in 1998-99 and added four more over the next couple of decades, the last coming in 2013-14. The team has been a perennial playoff contender since his second year as the Spurs’ head coach, and his legacy will far outlast his tenure on the sidelines.
Are you a part of the Spurs family and hope to see them march their way through the postseason to snatch up their sixth trophy? Make sure you’re properly attired first by heading to Fanatics, where you’ll find loads of incredible Spurs gear.