He wants some nasty.
When dealing with the media, Popovich is not a tyrant like Bobby Knight, but fortunately, he's no tight-lipped federal agent like Bill Belichick either.
He tends to be sardonic more often than he is rude, although sometimes he achieves both. Simply put: Pop does not like dealing with the media.
After manning his post as the head coach of the Spurs for the past 17 seasons, Popovich has earned a considerable bit of latitude on how he does things. His team has won at least 50 games every season for the last 14 years—including the 66-game lockout-shortened season.
Get out of this man's way and let him do his job. Sadly for Pop, talking to the media is written in his contract.
ESPN's Lisa Salters captured the existential dread that comes with having to interview Popovich (via Marc Stein of ESPN.com).
It is very nerve-wracking. I never think of Pop as trying to make you look bad—you never take it personal because it's just Pop being Pop—but you just know he's going to be kind of snarky. So you're doing your job, but you're also thinking, 'I don't want to be embarrassed on live television.'
Apparently "Pop being Pop" strikes fear in the hearts of all sports journalists. And it's not that Popovich is a bad guy. He just loathes any distraction from his task of winning basketball games, and the media are a big distraction.
As ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Breen put it, "He doesn't think a coach, in the middle of his game, should have to do that. And I guess [being difficult] is his little form of protest...In the pregame meetings, he gives such great answers. I can't wait to get into his office and you never want to leave" (per Stein).
Perhaps he's nice to Mike Breen, but there's ample video evidence displaying Popovich's bone-dry wit combined with a get-off-my-lawn cantankerousness to prove that he should be given a wide berth on game day.
But when the networks thrust a microphone and camera in his face, Pop's "little form of protest" becomes comedic gold.
In this year's conference semifinals, Golden State Warriors dynamo Stephen Curry unleashed on offensive onslaught in Game 1.
Unfortunately for TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, the home coach gets interviewed between the third and fourth quarters, so if things are going poorly he's sure to be pretty testy by that point.
Aldridge asked about Curry's hot shooting and Popovich was surprisingly accommodating. So much so, in fact, that Aldridge decided to quit while he was ahead and stick to just one question instead of the standard two.
Pop was briefly thrown off his rhythm, and feigned offense at the one-question snub, saying, "I'm hurt."
Early in the 2012-13 season when Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley tried to interview Popovich, at least he had a second question ready.
Actually, he had at least three questions prepared and perhaps even more than that. Fortunately, Pop laid down the two-question law and cut off the Round Mound of Rebound, saying, "That's a third question, isn't it? Don't you just get two?"
All Sir Charles had to say was, "My bad." Do they teach the two-question maximum in journalism school?
Insert joke here from Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal about how Chuck doesn't know how to count. Then insert corresponding photoshopped image of a confused Barkley with an abacus.
Poor David Aldridge. He had to consult his Roget's Thesaurus after this interview fail where he asked Gregg Popovich if he was "happy" with the Spurs' shot selection. In a somewhat odd outburst, the coach took great issue with Aldridge's word choice.
Pop replied, "Happy? Happy's not a word that we think about in a game. You gotta think of something different. Happy. I don't know how to judge happy. We're in the middle of a contest. Nobody's happy."
Perhaps cheery, chipper, elated, exultant, gay, gleeful, gratified, joyous, merry, mirthful or tickled pink would have been better?
At any rate, it makes me sad that nobody's happy when playing basketball. But at least Aldridge had a second question ready this time (and thankfully not a third).
Gregg Popovich may very well be one of the greatest deadpan comedians of our generation. He takes media roasting to the next level and they don't seem to hate him for it. Eat your heart out, John Tortorella.
Asked how excited he was about training camp, Popovich feigned "excitement" and then asked, "Does anybody have a question that makes sense? I want to start the year off right...He had to stay up all night to think of that question. And it was the first one. Are you kidding me?"
Yikes. That reporter may have run screaming from the building never to return again after that castigation.
After a different reporter asked Pop a lineup question, the Abbott and Costello routine was setup for completion: "How excited are you about (his) question?"
Over time, Popovich and the always-dapper (if sometimes deafeningly loud) Craig Sager have developed a pained rapport where Pop mocks what Sager's wearing and Sager laughs and takes it. He used to it by now.
After all, these are the clothes that inspired their very own tumblr.
But at least KG didn't wipe his nose with another man's pocket square. He left the sullying of Sager's finery to Popovich.
Sager's purple suit also temporarily blinded Pop, and led to his professionalism being questioned. Yet another suit got blamed for a turnover-filled quarter from the Miami Heat.
To his credit, Sager handles all the abuse with aplomb. Somehow.
But Craig Sager's clothes aren't the only things that draw the ire of Popovich; his questions do so as well.
When Sager asked what defensive adjustments the coach would like to make, he paused and fixed a look of incredulity on his face. Eventually, he carefully enunciated a very profound coaching strategy, "I'd like to play a little bit more competitively."
Poor Craig Sager.
All Pop needs is a dozen words for his interview. "I can't play him 48...Manu's not here...You looked at them."
And really, this is cheating, since Sager technically got away with asking a third question. We can chalk that up to Popovich either not hearing or not caring about Sager's second question.
And for the record, the answer to any question about the Spurs' second unit is always, "Red Mamba."
All Pop felt he needed to say to Craig Sager in this instance was "we competed" and "same way." Brevity is the soul of wit, after all.
It's somewhat stunning that Popovich neglected to lampoon Sager's salmon-check print, but his focus is more finely honed in the conference finals.
Seriously though, Sager's wardrobe puts Walt Frazier's to shame, and that's saying something.
Sometimes Gregg Popovich gives a normal interview to Doris Burke, but not on this occasion. Two words were all she got out of Pop, and they were the same exact word.
As Burke eloquently assessed it, "Verbosity, he will never be accused of."
During the 2012 conference finals, Gregg Popovich was captured by TNT cameras addressing his team on the bench. "I want some nasty!" he implored them.
That prompted a "great question," according to Pop himself. Namely, what exactly does "I want some nasty" mean?
And finally, sports fans have gotten confirmation that coaches say random, embarrassing stuff to the team in hopes of inspiring their charges. For every "win one for the Gipper," there's a thousand "I want some nasties."