This year’s NBA Finals is the battle of defenders for Greg Popovich, with former player Steve Kerr at the helm of the Golden State Warriors and former assistant coach, who also fits in with Popovich, Amy Odoka leading the Boston Celtics.
By the end of the month, the former Popovich player will win a ring as a coach. His leadership is undeniable.
Before the first game of the finals, Commissioner Adam Silver spoke about Popovich’s legacy: “Thank you, Greg Popovich. He practically runs an academy there. [in San Antonio] For future coaches, not just coaches but team executives. He did an amazing job.”
Popovich is the longest-serving coach with the same team out of all of the 122 major professional sports in his franchise (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB). He is the most winning coach in NBA history, including five championships (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014), making him one of only three active coaches in the league with multiple final titles.
Popovich’s legacy can be drawn from his extensive and successful coaching tree. Seven active coaches in the NBA stem from the tutelage of Popovich in San Antonio. Entering the season, that group included former coaches Quinn Snyder (Utah Jazz) and James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets).
An extensive network of assistant coaches includes Will Hardy of the Celtics, Jack Vaughn of the Brooklyn Nets and Joe Bronte of the Atlanta Hawks.
Even two current GMs — Sam Priesty of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sean Marks of the Nets — fall into the Popovich rainforest.
Popovich also brought Becky Hammon into the Tottenham training fold, the first woman to coach a professional men’s sports team in America after he was kicked out of a game in December. Hammon now coaches the Las Vegas Aces in the NBA, which boasts a league best 10-2 record.
Here’s a glimpse at each of the current NBA coaches branching off the Popovich tree:
Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
Budenholzer worked under Popovich as an assistant at San Antonio, where Tottenham reached the NBA Finals five times (and won four) between 1996 and 2013. Prior to landing in Milwaukee, Budenholzer served as the Atlanta Hawks coach from 2013-18.
Im Odoka, Boston Celtics
Oduka played two seasons with Popovich in San Antonio and worked as an assistant coach at back-to-back Tottenham Hotspur finals in 2013 and 2014.
The first-year coach said his mentor left a “nice voicemail” for him after the Celtics reached the finals, but after seeing firsthand how “annoying” Popovic was with his former assistants during the post-season, Odoka said he made a point not to chase after his former coach. .
By Taylor Jenkins and the Memphis Grizzlies
Jenkins, 37, began his NBA career as a trainee at Tottenham’s front office. By the age of thirty, Jenkins had already been appointed head coach of the Tottenham branch in the G League, and took over as Memphis head coach at the age of 34 after serving for a period as one of Budenholzer’s assistants in Atlanta.
Monty Williams and the Phoenix Suns
Williams, the NBA’s Coach of the Year this season, was a Tottenham player during Popovic’s first two years at the helm, and coached as a coach during the 2004-05 San Antonio Championship season.
Under Williams, Phoenix boasted the best league record (64-18, highest win percentage and highest win percentage, 0.780, in franchise history) before falling to the Mavericks in the conference semifinals.
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Kerr played for Popovich from 1998-2003 in San Antonio. The two also trained together in Tokyo, where Team USA won the gold medal, and Kerr has been appointed as Popovic’s replacement as head coach of the men’s national team in December.
This year, he appeared in six NBA Finals games as a coach for Kerr and a chance for a fourth championship. He was the 2015-16 League Coach of the Year.
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers
Rivers played his last two NBA seasons in San Antonio from 1994 to 1996, when Popovich was the team’s general manager and before he took over as the head coach. Rivers was a member of Tottenham’s broadcasting squad in 1999, Popovic’s third season at the helm, and said to be nearly his last after his championship-caliber side opened the shortened closing season 6-8. It was felt that Rivers would be called up to replace Popovic if the team did not improve. As history has known, San Antonio improved to 37-13 in the season and won its first NBA title.
Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings
Prior to taking coaching duties with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, Brown was an assistant under Popovich from 2000-2003. In that final season in San Antonio, Tottenham won the championship. Brown eventually lost to Popovich in the 2007 NBA Finals as coach for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. He is currently ending his career with the Warriors as an assistant before leading the Kings next season.