The Numbers Behind a Legend

The Numbers Behind a Legend

Gregg Popovich has assumed the mantle of the NBA coach with the most victories to his name after the San Antonio Spurs beat the Utah Jazz 104-102 on Friday night.

With the win, Popovich secured his place in the record books after notching the 1,336th victory of his coaching career, overtaking Don Nelson’s previous record.

The Chicago-born coach, 73, who is also the Spurs’ president, joined the NBA in July 1988 to link up with the Spurs as assistant coach to Larry Brown, enjoying four seasons with a team that won two Midwest Division titles.

Popovich then switched to the Golden State Warriors in 1992 where he served as Nelson’s assistant for two seasons before returning to San Antonio in 1994 as the Spurs’ executive vice president of basketball operations/general manager. He was given the role of the team’s head coach in December 1996.

Pops by the numbers

It took Popovich just two seasons to claim his first NBA title — the first in franchise history — in 1999, before clinching four more in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014.

In fact, since the Spurs became a part of the league, he is responsible for all of the NBA titles the team has won. His remarkable tenure also includes three Coach of the Year awards in 2003, 2012, and 2014.

1,336.. Gregg Popovich stands alone! pic.twitter.com/R134kESQGS

— NBA (@NBA) March 12, 2022

Popovich steered San Antonio to the NBA’s best regular-season record five times (1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2011-12, and 2013-14), and is the longest-tenured coach with the same team among all NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL franchises.

Along with Pat Riley, John Kundla, Red Auerbach, and Phil Jackson, he’s one of only five coaches in history with five-or-more NBA Championships to his name.

His regular-season win percentage may have taken something of a hit in recent times, but it still stands at a more than decent .658 across his career. His postseason record is also among the league’s best, as you would imagine for someone with five championships in the bag.

Popovich has registered 170 playoff wins, which is the third-most in NBA history behind Riley and Jackson, and his career win percentage in playoffs of .599 (170-114) is the fourth-highest in league history (from a minimum of 100 games).

From his first full season onward, Popovich took San Antonio to the playoffs for an incredible 22 consecutive years, tying the record set by the Philadelphia 76ers, who reached the playoffs every year from 1950 to 1971 as the Syracuse Nationals and, later, Philadelphia.

Going out on top?

Even the most impressive careers must eventually come to an end, and with the Spurs failing to make the postseason since 2019 — and on course to end the season with a losing record for the third straight year — rumors abound that this could be Popovich’s last season. It would be a sad goodbye if it does happen, though the famously level-headed coach would deeply dislike the idea of a fuss being made.

Of the current active NBA coaches, only Doc Rivers who, with 1,032 wins and a 13-year age differential, stands any chance of catching Popovich anytime soon. For now, however, “Coach Pop” can sit at the top of the pile, secure in the knowledge that nobody has experienced that winning feeling in the NBA as much as he has.

Author: Justin Graves