Gregg Popovich to oversee Victor Wembanyama's NBA start | Inquirer Sports

Gregg Popovich to oversee Victor Wembanyama’s NBA start

/ 09:35 AM June 21, 2023

Gregg Popovich Spurs NBA

FILE – Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs yells to his players during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 13, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. Jason Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Victor Wembanyama’s early NBA days will be overseen by one of the league’s most legendary coaches, outspoken Gregg Popovich, who helped transform another French teen, Tony Parker, into a superstar.

Popovich, the 74-year-old son of a Serbian father and Croatian mother, is the longest-tenured coach in any major American sports league, having guided the Spurs since 1996.


With discipline and priorities formed while at the US Air Force Academy in the 1960s, Popovich has become a five-time NBA champion head coach, a three-time NBA Coach of the Year and in August will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.


“What makes a great coach is getting a lot of young men and helping them become men, adding to their life,” said NBA guard Dwyane Wade. “Coach Pop has done an amazing job of helping young men become grown-ass men.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who won two NBA titles playing under Popovich, praised his impact.

“He’s amazing,” Kerr said. “There are just so many people like me whose lives have been impacted so dramatically and so positively by Pop. One of the most influential people ever in my life. I owe him so much.”

Popovich mentored top draft pick Tim Duncan in 1997 and Parker when he came to the NBA in 2001.

“I loved playing for Pop,” Parker said. “Pop was huge. I always trust Pop’s judgment.”

Popovich accepts the challenge of a new generation with Wembanyama, the most talented prospect since LeBron James with size like Duncan and Parker-esque skills.


“He has still got it. He can do this for a lot longer,” said Kerr. “One of Pop’s great abilities has been his willingness and eagerness to adapt.

“He really understood what was happening around the league with speed, pace and ball movement. He was ahead of the curve all the time.”

Victor Wembanyama

Metropolitan 92’s French power forward Victor Wembanyama reacts during the French Elite basketball match between Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 and Bourg-en-Bresse at The AccorHotels Arena in Paris on May 7, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

The Spurs, who made the playoffs 22 straight years under Pop, have missed the playoffs for four seasons, going 20-62 this past campaign.

A grizzled, gritty and sometimes grumpy Popovich will try to teach Wembanyama to maximize his unique talents as he did with Parker.

“At one of (Parker’s) first practices, I brought a few guys to get in his face,” Popovich said. “I wanted to see what he had in the belly. I was impressed with him. So I told him, ‘The ball is yours, find solutions, I’ll love you and yell at you at the same time.'”

Popovich embraced global talent early, bringing more than 40 players from beyond US borders onto the Spurs roster, and made Becky Hammon the NBA’s first female assistant coach.

Popovich passed Lenny Wilkens to become the NBA’s all-time winningest coach in 2019 with his 1,413th career triumph in playoff and regular-season games.

In 2022, he won an NBA record 1,336th regular-season game, accepting the feat with sarcasm.

“What I could do in my retirement, what kind of wine I could drink, all these things become bland when I think about the number of victories I have,” Popovich deadpanned.

Humor is one of the ways Popovich measures people, saying in 2015 that those “who don’t appreciate funny moments won’t be able to give their all for a group.”

Social justice champion

Popovich, a noted wine collector, is also outspoken on social justice.

Popovich spoke out about reparations for Black people in 2020, saying protests helped “get all the way to the reparations discussion and not just wait for legislation and laws.”

Last July, Popovich ripped “rampant” US racism, saying, “I had no idea it was to this level… it pisses me off, it hurts me, it confounds me.”

After 21 people were killed in a Texas elementary school shooting, Popovich railed against officials sending “thoughts and prayers” without changing gun laws.

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“They’re the same statements after every massacre,” he said. “They think we’re stupid so they’ll keep bringing it up, but they’ll listen to us if we’re angry enough and we’re committed enough.”


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TAGS: Gregg Popovich, NBA, Victor Wembanyama

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