For NBA writers, pregame with Gregg Popovich is a little like trading engaging barbs with Bill Maher.
It can be humorous, but the guy you are talking to is a minimum of two times as quick as you and five times as smart, so step carefully.
Pop is a guy who majored in Soviet Studies at the Air Force Academy and worked in highly sensitive missions on the border of Russia and Turkey when he was a younger man. So while he loves to compete, he has a different perspective on sports.
The result is if a writer begins a question with, “How important is . . .” the Spurs head coach will raise his eyebrows, raise his voice, flap his hands and say, “Very important!”
Then he’ll smile while the troubled questioner fumbles to reconsider how different wording might result in a serious answer.
Some don’t take too well to Popovich’s curt humor. Before a game a couple of years ago, Manu Ginobili was hurt and had been examined by the doctor in the late afternoon. Pop was asked about Ginobili’s status and answered, but then a TV reporter wandered over and asked the same question.
Pop answered with a colorful burst of words that roughly translated were, “How the hell should I know? They just looked at him a few minutes ago.”
When the media surrounding Popovich started laughing, the TV guy became so upset that he walked away in a huff. As he did, Pop started yelling at him to come back. When the guy kept walking, Pop said, “At least shoot me the finger,” and then laughed and said, “He won’t even do that.”
Rarely are pregame sessions with a head coach as entertaining as they are with Pop, and he doesn’t limit his surprises to humor. Before the Spurs opened the playoffs with a 106-91 victory over the Utah Jazz on Sunday, Popovich told the media that he had been playing a practical joke on them for 15 years.
(To see the original column on Sheridanhoops.com, click here.)