LOS ANGELES -- Gregg Popovich went all Gregg Popovich on Friday in assessing his team’s 119-113 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Kobe Bryant’s last clash with the San Antonio Spurs.
“We won,” Popovich said. “Good effort.”
Concise, for sure.
But prior to San Antonio's unleashing seven double-figure scorers on the Lakers -- led by Tony Parker’s team-high 25 points -- Popovich provided plenty of insight into Bryant’s pending retirement, former assistant general manager Sean Marks and what he looks for when bringing people into the Spurs organization.
What makes the matchup between Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan so special?
Popovich: Well, I guess two competitors who have become iconic figures as far as basketball is concerned. They’ve been doing it so long, so consistently. I think people over time really respect that.
What was it like to coach Bryant over All-Star weekend?
Popovich: What really stood out was the respect that all the players had for him. We’re practicing, we’re fooling around, having a good time, and all of a sudden they started playing a video up there of Kobe highlights. And one by one, the players just stopped. We all just stopped, and everybody looked up and stared at it. For some of the young guys, the young All-Stars, some of the stuff they had never seen before, probably, when he was young. There were ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs,' and that was a pretty cool moment.
Bryant said he likes to pick your brain about basketball. Did he do that at the All-Star Game?
Popovich: We’ve done that in the past, but this time, it was pure fun. We just talked about how things are ending and what comes next in the future for him -- that kind of thing, nothing basketball. That was the least of it.
How was it to guard him at practices during All-Star weekend?
Popovich: He elbowed me. He did. I don’t know if you looked at that. He got competitive, and he elbowed me so he could get by me because I’m so quick, and I was staying in front of him. He’s a slow old dog, and I’m quick. The only way he could get around me was to cheat, so he raised that elbow and cracked me.
Did he at least get called for a foul?
There have been so many battles with Kobe over the past 20 years, but you seem to be going through your own emotional catharsis in your career. You can see it in your eyes.
Popovich: Are you my therapist? Is there a question at the end of this? Do I have to listen to this bulls---? [Laughing]
Are you going through your own catharsis watching Kobe’s tour end?
Popovich: As much as I would like to fool with you on this, part of the question that is kind of cool is you can’t help but just watch him. When he played in San Antonio -- what? a week ago or two weeks ago? -- I think he hit five 3s or something. And with every one, I almost giggled. I elbowed [assistant coach] Ettore Messina or Ime Udoka, and I said, ‘Check it out. He’s still got those moments when he does it.’ I think we won the game in the last minute or 10 seconds or whatever it was. But he was taking the game over, and I was having fun watching him -- kind of like the way you would do with Michael [Jordan] when he played. If you weren’t careful, you stopped coaching, and you just started watching because they’re so incredible. That’s how I felt back in San Antonio.
What will you miss about preparing for Kobe?
Popovich: For us, it was a lot scarier because, in his prime and in some of those moments now, no matter what you did defensively, he still could rise up over you and get off a relatively uncontested shot with balance. That would scare you because there’s really no defense for it. It was like you couldn’t let him get the ball, so you had to pick your spots when you wanted to get him away from the ball or, if he did have the ball, who you were going to send to him, who you were going to allow to shoot the ball, what you were going to give up if you went after him and took it out of his hands. It was that sort of thing. But the final fear would always be -- even if we did that -- he still would rise up, and he’s going to get that shot off. And he did that against a lot of people, including us, many times.
Got any advice for Kobe for his final 26 games?
Popovich: Well, as I’ve already told him, just enjoy every moment because he’s going to miss it. No matter what he thinks, he’s going to miss it to some degree, and the competitiveness will never be exactly the same. It will be a different kind of competitiveness, so each night out, enjoying the crowd, enjoying your teammates and playing the game that you love is what he should be thinking about.
What are your thoughts about former Spurs assistant general manager Sean Marks' taking the GM job in Brooklyn?
Popovich: I miss him already. He’s really a gifted guy -- not just at basketball. He’s got a lot of experience as a player. Then he did the GM thing as an assistant with R.C. [Buford]. We had him do it for a year or two, then I brought him over to the coaching side for a year, just for experience, knowing full well he was going to be a manager. But it’ll make him a better manager knowing what coaches do and what they go through. And now that he’s got that experience, he’s not really a rookie. He’s been in the middle of everything we’ve done: when we traded for Kawhi Leonard and how we put the team together each year. He’s been in the middle of all that. He’s got great experience. He’s a good people person. He gets along with people. People like to be around him. He’s got a sense of humor. I think he’s got a great chance to set a vision and establish a culture there over time, if that’ll be allowed.
When you bring someone into the Spurs organization, what do you look for?
Popovich: Oh, boy. This is going to be a long interview. For us, it’s easy. We’re looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We’re looking for people -- and I’ve said it many times -- that have gotten over themselves. And you can tell that pretty quick. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it’s about them or if they understand that they’re just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that.
A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You’ve got to be able to laugh. You’ve got to be able to take a dig, give a dig, that sort of thing, and feel comfortable in your own skin that you don’t have all the answers. People who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches meetings when we’re arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we’re going to play or who we’re going to sit.
We need people who can handle information and not take it personally because in most of these organizations, there’s a big divide. All of the sudden, the wall goes up between management and coaching, and everybody is ready to blame back and forth. And that’s the rule, rather than the exception. It just happens, but that’s about people. It’s about finding people who have all those kinds of qualities, so we do our best to look for that, and when somebody comes, they figure it out pretty quick.