Is Gregg Popovich's Curmudgeon Act with Media Wearing a Little Thin?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 29: Gregg Popovich Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs speaks to the media after a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 29, 2014 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich's unique relationship with the media is well known. He has a penchant for terse responses that often seem nothing short of rude. Most reporters know better.

Popovich likes having fun with them. 

But there are times when it's fair to ask whether the legendary coach has gone too far. After Thursday night's Game 5 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Popovich jokingly jabbed at the merits of a question about the back-and-forth blowouts that have typified the series.

NBCSports.com's Dan Feldman took some issue with Popovich's tone this time:

I hope the reporter wasn’t offended, though Popovich’s words – even with his laugh – were way out of line. I know I wouldn’t have been offended, because this is who Popovich is. He’s a jerk to the media. A long history of him acting like this might mean we shouldn’t take his retorts seriously, but normalizing them doesn’t make them acceptable.

 

So it's a fair juncture to recount an instance (from a year ago) in which Popovich responded to sideline reporter Doris Burke's two questions with the same one-word answer: "turnovers." 

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 29: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 29, 2014 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  NO
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Burke went on The Lowe Post podcast recently and suggested that the encounter was actually quite traumatic (via NBCSports.com's Dan Feldman):

But, yeah, Zach, it’s not fun. Everybody laughed at that, last year – and I don’t know if you remember the moment – but I had asked him something about the offensive end, and he said “turnovers,” one word. Then I asked him about, “OK, on the defensive end, you held them to whatever percentage. What did you see that you liked on that end?” And he said “turnovers” again.

Burke continued, expressing her dismay at the time: "Two words. I was devastated. It was brutal. It was absolutely brutal. I was almost in tears. I go back to where I sit, and I’m trying to compose myself, because I thought I asked two pretty good questions. And those were the responses I got."

ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz ventured to say, "There are times in which [Popovich] is just downright mean" in a conversation with Amin Elhassan.

Will Popovich's media tactics change anytime soon? Not likely. His gruff exterior has become par for the course. 

But we'll also continue to see the human side of Popovich from time to time. He doesn't let it out of the cage often, but it's definitely there—even when the media's involved.

Most recently, Popovich suspended the tough-guy act in order to wish Craig Sager all the best.

A little more of that could go a long way in changing public perception of a man otherwise regarded as one of the very best to ever coach the game. Whether Popovich actually cares about that public perception is another matter entirely.

Popovich certainly isn't the only one to mess with the media. Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle even dubbed his two-word response in one sideline interview as his "Gregg Popovich impersonation."

That may be the last thing media need—the Popovich effect taking on a life of its own.