I ran across an outstanding article by Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports, which shed some light the history between NBA Commissioner David Stern and San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
There is a clear rift between Stern’s vision of the NBA and the marketability of how Popovich and the Spurs run their organization – one that has won multiple NBA championships.
All of this came to a head last week when Popovich chose not to play stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in a nationally televised game against defending champion Miami Heat. The move resulted in a $250,000 fine against the Spurs sanctioned by Stern.
Wojnarowski sums it up like this:
In every way, Popovich let his players be the stars. He never self-promoted. He’s never done endorsements. Stern wanted a players’ league, and Popovich gave him the ultimate players’ program. It was team, team, team. Only, Stern couldn’t market it. He hated it. Four times they reached the NBA Finals, and Stern didn’t like the TV ratings of those series.
For all of his so-called marketing genius, Stern could never sell the global appeal of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They brought the NBA to the corners of the world, glamorized basketball over soccer, and somehow it was Popovich’s failure that Stern couldn’t market this to people. The NBA failed the Spurs, far more than the Spurs ever failed the NBA. After his fourth championship, I asked Popovich why he never cashed in on all the trappings that come to the immortal coaches.
“Listen,” Popovich told me, “it’s a player’s league. I think it’s very important for a coach to make sure that his players believe 100 percent – and not with lip service – that it’s about them. Coaches are going to do everything they can to create that environment for them. It’s not about creating an environment for us. It’s a privilege to be able to coach these guys. We make enough money.”
Against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, against Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, what the Spurs did in a 105-100 loss wasn’t an embarrassment to the NBA, but a celebration of it. This is how a franchise ought to be run, how winning is of foremost importance. Popovich empowered his bench to hang with the defending champion Heat, and gave his group even greater confidence and belief for when they’re called upon again. What happened was one of the most compelling Spurs’ regular-season games, and easily the most mesmerizing game of this season.
From an NBA fan’s point of view, I say bravo to Popovich for sticking to his philosophy and running the Spurs the way he sees beneficial to what is best for the team in the long run.
Who can argue with a coach that has created a modern team dynasty from the ground up through the draft culminating into four championships for a small market town?
So what if Stern and ESPN didn’t get the superstar match up one that could kill TV ratings. Contrary to what Stern wants, for the players and coaches, the NBA is about winning games and titles and not just about which superstar and big market can bring in the most money.
In the end, I saw an unexpected competitive game by the Spurs, I also envisioned a huge middle finger raised proudly at Stern by a team and a coach that knows how to win.
It’s sad that finger cost the Spurs $250,000, but it reality, what it represented was priceless to those that value basketball over money.