It is rare that in professional sports you find a bond so close to what a high school basketball coach and a student reach together. In San Antonio, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan have had that bond since day one.
It started out months before the draft when Spurs had the lucky bounce of the lottery and won the overall top pick. The clear cut favourite for the top spot was Duncan and they looked no where else. Popovich visited Duncan in his hometown Christiansted, located on the coast of the Virgin Islands.
Popovich was a new coach himself looking for a player to take him and the team to the next level alongside another talented big in David Robinson. After a couple days on the beach, it was clear the direction the Spurs were heading and Duncan was on board.
“I know what I am. I don’t know how else to explain it.” Duncan stated.
On 25 June 1997 in Charlotte, the package was secure. Duncan was the newest member of an up and coming group of men.
Popovich said with a grin on his face, “He’s one of the most unbelievable competitors I’ve been around.”
It was not an easy beginning for Tim Duncan as his father got sick and was hundreds of miles away from home. He turned to his coach who then turned into his personal mentor. Duncan felt comfortable talking about situations with his new coach which grew an even tighter bond. Duncan had a shoulder to lean on in the tough times, but also someone who knew how to push him to the limit on the court.
Rarely seen in the NBA is a bond between a coach and player that is almost father-son like. We have the Marburys and the Larry Browns who cannot last a season together while Duncan and Popovich can spend a summer together. What that brings has equaled success for a Spurs team that dominated the past decade winning four out the last ten championships.
The duo is a model of what almost all franchises pray for. A Coach of the Year candidate every year and a two time MVP who actually loves his coach.
What makes the duo so successful? They get each other.
The players feel they can talk to Duncan who then can have a conversation with the coach and have it openly discussed due to the friendship. They also watch Duncan get rode in practice and in games which makes them realize how it takes everyone to run the machine.
That machine is often called boring and dirty as the league nits and picks what they want to hear about the Spurs. Fans enjoy seeing failure but the city of San Antonio has been lucky enough not to worry about that.
Four championships later, Duncan and Popovich look for their first back-to-back championship in franchise history as they have a group of guys willing to bond into champions. Duncan knows that it’s on his back to win and silence the critics for saying he is too old and too sloppy.
Popovich smiled and summed it up perfectly, “Some nights he's going to stop somebody, some nights it won't happen. But he's going to be effective in some way, shape or form every night to help us win. He’s done it four times now and often goes untalked about but I’m sure he does not mind. Not even the greatest of the great get here alone.”