LAS VEGAS — Gregg Popovich evidently doesn’t plan to leave the San Antonio Spurs anytime soon.
The NBA’s winningest coach has signed a five-year contract to remain coach and president of the team, the Spurs announced Saturday. There has often been speculation about the 74-year-old Popovich’s future, though after the team landed the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama last month it was presumed that the five-time champion would continue coaching.
And now, it’s official. The Spurs announced the move in a two-sentence release, not detailing any of the terms, without any quotes from Popovich or team personnel.
Popovich took over as coach of the Spurs in December 1996. He’s won 1,366 games — 31 more than Don Nelson, who was the career wins leader before Popovich caught him.
He’s also third in playoff wins with 170, behind only Phil Jackson (229) and Pat Riley (171). And Popovich is one of only five coaches with at least five championships; Jackson won 11, Red Auerbach won nine and Popovich is in a group with Riley and John Kundla as winners of five.
He’ll enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next month.
“His ability to connect and spend time and bounce between the really detailed development of basketball players and the bigger picture of developing people is just so impressive,” Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt said in May. “I think no matter what Pop does, he’s going to find a way to do that because that’s in his heart. And I’m excited to see whatever the next phase is in that journey.”
Popovich talked before the Spurs’ last game of this past season about how, during his career, he has been the “beneficiary of serendipity to a max degree” — and that was even before San Antonio won the lottery and the chance to draft Wembanyama, potentially having him follow in the footsteps of David Robinson and Tim Duncan who came to the Spurs as No. 1 picks and became franchise-cornerstone big men.
But with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone, the Spurs haven’t won a playoff series since 2017 and went a combined 121-186 over the last four seasons, basically losing more games in the last four years than they did in the previous eight years combined. Those struggles, along with his age, created speculation that Popovich might opt to retire.
The losing ends now, if Wembanyama has anything to say about it. He’s coming to the NBA with eyes on becoming a superstar, an icon, a champion. And he’s about to become the star of the latest — and perhaps final — phase of Popovich’s career.
“He’s not intimidating yet, but I’m sure he’s going to get intimidating when I see him in real life,” Wembanyama said after the draft.
Popovich, along with all the wins and the five titles, also won an Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games that were played in 2021.
“He’s amazing,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich and assisted him with the national team. “The Hall of Fame was just a formality. Everybody knew he would be there. It was just a matter of when.”
The longstanding belief was that Popovich wanted certain people in the Hall before he would allow himself to be under consideration. Duncan and Ginobili had to go in first, and Popovich is part of a class that also includes two other people close to him — former Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and Parker.
“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich said earlier this year. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”
And the Hall of Fame career in San Antonio will continue for a few more years.
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