San Antonio Spurs News

San Antonio Spurs: Engelland, Buford on how Gregg Popovich connects

By Rob Wolkenbrod
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 3: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs follows the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half at Wells Fargo Center on January 3, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 3: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs follows the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half at Wells Fargo Center on January 3, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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In a piece for TIME, San Antonio Spurs coaches and management discussed how Gregg Popovich connects with the players and coaches.

For the past 20 years, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has led a winning culture, resulting in little-to-no controversy, players sticking around for the long term (David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili), and five NBA championships. It’s part of what will eventually get him into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.

Popovich attempts to connect with players, as seen with the “heart-to-heart talk” he had with LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason, amidst unhappiness on the team. They worked it out, Aldridge signed a contract extension and he’s now the team’s MVP of the 2017-18 season, and that’s with two-plus months to go in the season.

How does Popovich pull off these connections, though? Daniel Coyle of TIME spoke to Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland and general manager RC Buford about this.

Engelland detailed how “Pop” is different from the rest, with his no-nonsense approach to speaking with a player, followed by love for him:

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“A lot of coaches can yell or be nice, but what Pop does is different,” said assistant coach Chip Engelland. “He delivers two things over and over: he’ll tell you the truth, with no BS, and then he’ll love you to death.”

Buford spoke about how Popovich uses where others come from as the connection. Could that be why San Antonio has always featured multiple international players on its roster?

“It’s so easy to be insulated when you’re a professional athlete,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “Pop uses these moments to connect us. He loves that we come from so many different places. That could pull us apart, but he makes sure that it makes us feel connected and engaged to something bigger.”

Along with this, Buford noted how Popovich uses food and wine as his “vehicle to make and sustain a connection.” He often has the players do this by eating together, with the coaching staff doing the same.

Next: Top 25 players in Spurs history

It’s an intriguing read that dives deeper into how Popovich creates these relationships. He has done something correct over the past two decades, that’s for sure.

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