Greg Popovich became the all-time NBA winning coach with 1,336 wins.
Popovich outpaced Don Nelson, who previously held the record for most wins in NBA history, with a 104-102 San Antonio Spurs victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
“Greg Popovich’s success with Tottenham is unprecedented in the league, so it is only fitting that he now holds the record for most career wins,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement after the game.
“His leadership and unwavering commitment to the game are widely admired by generations of players and coaches alike. Congratulations to Coach Bob on this latest achievement in his legendary career.”
Popovic, 73, is in his 26th season with Tottenham, the longest streak of any head coach in all of the four major US sports leagues.
“Very happy for Bob,” long-time Tottenham goalkeeper Tony Parker told ESPN. “Very happy. This is a great achievement. Well deserved. It shows his hard work ethic and his longevity.”
All-star point guard Dignity Murray Spurs said Spurs had not discussed closing Papovic in the record but the players were ready to celebrate the achievement.
“Pop doesn’t like praise,” Murray said. “He doesn’t like any of that. It’s kind of a good thing. But you also want to remind him of his success because it’s rare. Because he’s a guy who just wants to focus on winning and every day. Anything to compliment himself.”
‘We’re not talking about [the record], but we’re sure we’ll enjoy it when we get it for him because he’s such a great guy and he deserves it. He pushes all his players, whether you’re the first, last, or G-League player, with a 10-day contract, he’s embracing you from day one. He deserves it all.”
Popovich, who was named one of the 15 best coaches in the NBA in February, has won five championships and won the Coach of the Year award three times. He has a record of 23 consecutive regular seasons of wins and also has a streak of 22 consecutive playoffs.
After training at Pomona Bitzer in Claremont, California, Popovich joined Larry Brown’s staff at Tottenham in 1988. After four seasons with Tottenham, Popovich joined Nelson’s staff at Golden State in 1992 as an assistant.
“He’s the greatest coach I’ve ever had,” Nelson told ESPN. When I hired him as an assistant coach [in Golden State in 1992]I thought he could learn something from me. But I learned more from him than he learned from me, that’s for sure.”
Popovich worked with Golden State for two seasons before returning to San Antonio as General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations in 1994.
During the 1996-97 season, Popovic returned to the bench, and took over as head coach, where he has been ever since.
“It’s like a no-brainer,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, who spent 17 seasons as Spurs’ assistant coach. “If you want to do the top three or Mt. Rushmore [of coaches]I don’t think there is any doubt about his whereabouts and where he belongs. Success, consistency, longevity and the impact it had on an entire organization, on individual players, on coaches, on general managers, on scouts, on equipment guys, on families. He’s been incredibly influential in so many ways that go beyond wins, games, tournaments and all of that stuff.
“Just the consistency of getting it, not now, but for 20 years to be a tournament contender, playing in tournaments and playoffs, I don’t think you’ll ever see that again from one organisation, from one coach. That run, the [New England] Patriots are kind of like, I think that’s the thing I know I’m probably most intimidating about.”
With Spurs in the process of rebuilding, the wins have been tougher for Popovic this season. But those close to him point out that this is just another example of his greatness – his adaptability with the times, the game-changing talent and skills on his roster.
“I think he’s acclimatized, he’s acclimatised,” David Robinson of the Hall of Fame told ESPN. “He won under different conditions with different mixes of teams. We were a dominant defensive team, to [the teams] with Kohi [Leonard] And all of these guys, they were offensively dominant. They had a nice combination [on both sides]. And yet, you see how he’s had to adapt to a very different team.
“I think that’s what made it so cool. How do you win 67% of your games or whatever it has been for 25 years? It’s ridiculous. It’s really amazing.”
Popovic has always been respected by his players and peers. Besides his coaching success, Popovich has always been vocal about what he believes in, and has taken a stand on social justice and racial equality.
And while Popovich has now won more games than any other coach in the NBA, some of his players and staff also remember how he did some of his best work after heavy losses by keeping his team together.
After losing overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, when Tottenham lost in part to Ray Allen’s iconic 3-point shot, Popovich gathered his side for dinner in Miami and consoled each of his smashed players. The Heat have beaten Tottenham in seven games, but San Antonio bounced back to defeat them in the Finals next season.
“After losing match 6 when he almost won the championship, his phrase was so [often]”Win it together. We lose it together. The man has to eat. So we ate together,” long-time Tottenham striker Manu Ginobili told ESPN. Different players, had conversations and tried to cheer us up when I was devastated. This was another great example of leadership and trying to bring us together and being optimistic about the next stage or trying to find answers.”
ESPN’s Mark Spears, Dave McMenamin, Brian Windhurst and Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.
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