San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich becomes the winningest coach in NBA history
Spurs Popovich surpasses Don Nelson for most regular season wins in NBA history.
Buzzers sounded in the AT&T Center as the hometown team San Antonio Spurs captured another regular-season win, 104-102, against the visiting Utah Jazz. This win is the 1,336th regular-season victory — 1,526 overall — of Spurs’ legendary coach Gregg Popovich, now the all-time leader of the NBA in both categories.
Born in a Serbo-Croatian family in the city of Chicago, Popovich attended and graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, in which he played four seasons of basketball and became the leading scorer of the team. He did Soviet studies, underwent intelligence training, and once considered working for the Central Intelligence Agency before dedicating his life to basketball. After years of coaching college basketball, Popovich joined the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff along with his mentor Larry Brown. He was briefly the assistant coach to the Golden State Warriors between 1992 and 1994 before returning to the Spurs as the general manager and vice president of basketball operations.
After an awful 3–15 run early in the 1996-1997 NBA season, Popovich fired the head coach at that time and took over the position. Despite Popovich taking over, the Spurs were haunted by injuries and finished the season with an embarrassing 20–62 record. This failing season turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise as the Spurs subsequently drafted future hall of famer Tim Duncan in 1997. Tim Duncan — joined by David “the Admiral” Robinson, Avery “Little” Johnson and Steve Kerr — led the team to their first championship in 1999. The Spurs, since then, has gone on for the longest postseason streak in NBA history until the 2019-2020 season and is known for their selfless game of team basketball and the iconic big three, Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobilli. Modern basketball philosophies like “Hack-a-Shaq,” "players’ load management,” and “team basketball'' are all originated or reinforced by Coach Popovich’s legacy. Popovich has become a five-time NBA champion and, without a doubt, enjoys great success as a coach.
Coach Popovich is also famous for his sense of humor, generosity, and mentorship. He often poked fun at reporter Craig Sager’s outfits during sideline interviews on national television. When asked about the Spurs’ struggle in field goal percentage, he simply responded “It didn’t go in the hole.” Popovich helps great players develop but is never shy about letting them pursue brighter futures. He persuaded big man Boban Marjanovic to leave the Spurs when the Detroit Pistons offered Marjanovic a better deal that San Antonio could not match. For his coaching legacy, Popovich has a huge influence in the modern NBA as current coaches including Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks), and Boston’s very own Ime Udoka have all worked for and learned from coach Popovich. He also mentored Becky Hammon (Las Vegas Aces), the first WNBA coach to receive an one-million dollar annual salary. Coach Popovich was named the head coach of Team USA Men’s Basketball in 2015 and won the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during his tenure.
Off of the court, Popovich has been vocal on politics and inequality. He speaks out about racism, supports the Black Lives Matter movement during interviews, criticizes former president Donald Trump for his failures to unite the country, and participates in charity on a regular basis. “Because we’re all rich as hell, and we don’t need it all, and other people need it. Then, you’re an ass if you don’t give it. Pretty simple,” Popovich responded when ESPN asked about the importance of giving back to the community.
The San Antonio Spurs now have a record of 26 wins and 42 losses. They are two games behind the 10th seed, the threshold to make the play-in tournament. As rumors are that this might be Coach Popovich’s last season before retirement, the Spurs will continue to fight for a spot in the postseason to celebrate Popovich’s legacy.