Just days after Nov. 8, the San Antonio Spurs head coach said he couldn’t “imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African-American, a hispanic, a handicapped person.” A few days after that, he said it was “disorienting” to realize that “certain values that [he thought] were held in esteem” actually “aren’t very important to half the country.”
On Sunday in San Antonio, Popovich had some more things to say about the state of the U.S. But this time, his words weren’t directed at the country more generally, but at his own players and the high school students they inspire.
“Win the championship? I don’t know, but it’s not a priority in my life. I’d be much happier if I knew that my players were going to make society better, who had good families and who took care of the people around them. I’d get more satisfaction out of that than a title.”
Popovich was speaking at the Carver Community Center in San Antonio. In the crowd was an audience made up of 250 students from a local high school, as well as many members of the local community and the Spurs organization, players included. Onstage with him was Harvard professor Cornel West and discussion moderator Dave Zirin of The Nation.
Popovich and West took turns at the event taking questions from students in the crowd, but from them all, Popovich’s answer to one child’s question in particular stood out: Are the Spurs going to win the championship?
“Win the championship? I don’t know, but it’s not a priority in my life,” Popovich said. “I’d be much happier if I knew that my players were going to make society better, who had good families and who took care of the people around them. I’d get more satisfaction out of that than a title.”
Popovich then added, “I would love to win another championship, and we’ll work our butts off to try and do that. But we have to want more than success in our jobs. That’s why we’re here. We’re here so you’ll understand that you can overcome obstacles by being prepared and if you educate the hell out of yourself. If you become respectful, disciplined people in this world, you can fight anything. If you join with each other and you believe in yourself and each other, that’s what matters. That’s what we want to relay to you all: that we believe that about you or we wouldn’t be here.”
No one with any understanding of the NBA would ever doubt Popovich’s passion for the game of basketball. He is the gold standard among modern NBA coaches, owner of five championships and nineteen straight winning seasons.
But that he is so willing to say he would prefer his players be good people first and foremost says something even more about Popovich than any of his accolades. It says he is a good person, too.