There was a cool sports moment over the weekend during the first round of the NBA playoffs. In a game between the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich was interviewed in the middle of the game, as he often is. Popovich has a well documented history of messing with and being terse with flamboyantly dressed TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager. Sager, who missed the game after it was announced that he had leukemia, was replaced by his son Craig Sager Jr. Sager Jr was not as brightly dressed as his father normally is, but he stepped in to ask the tough questions and he got this response from Coach Pop.
This was a nice thing to see from a guy that’s normally short with the media. Popovich more than Phil Jackson is this generation’s Red Auerbach, in that he’s stayed with one team and developed a system that wins consistently without following the next superstar around. Like Red, he doesn’t really care what the media writes about him, and he must be really aggravating for sportswriters in San Antonio, who only have the one major professional team. He’s basketball’s answer to Bill Belichick or John Tortorella. Those guys are so short with the media that it’s become a game outside of the actual games. This weekend, we saw a different side of Coach Pop. Sager has been his nemesis for years, but he realizes the games won’t be the same without him. He didn’t have to take a live interview in the middle of a playoff game if he didn’t want to, and he did anyway. There is a lot to like about the way the Spurs play the game of basketball, and now there’s reason to like the coach if you didn’t before.
The Spurs find themselves in a position similar to the Boston Bruins in hockey. They were very close to winning it all in 2013, and feel like they left a championship banner on the table, but instead of wallowing in self-pity and having a hangover season, like the New Jersey Devils did last year, or the Vancouver Canucks the year before, they played with a heightened sense of determination people didn’t realize they had. Both the Bruins and the Spurs are the top teams heading into the playoffs, and the playoffs were the only thing they were thinking about in the regular season. Coach Pop, Tim Duncan, and the Spurs are looking for their fifth NBA Title, after they were so close to upsetting LeBron James and the Miami Heat last June, until Ray Allen hit maybe the biggest three point shot of his Hall of Fame career, while the Bruins are looking for their franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup championship. Now we get to sit back and see how it all plays out. Hopefully Sager makes a recovery and will be back on the sidelines soon as well.