Once upon a time, Gregg Popovich was offended that he misplaced the pinnacle teaching job for the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Mike Krzyzewski, and angrier over the way in which Team USA’s overlord, Jerry Colangelo, portrayed his failed candidacy within the media.
“I said I just didn’t feel it from Pop, and he took it personally,” Colangelo defined. “So our relationship widened even further.”
Popovich later made it clear to pals he wasn’t completely satisfied that Coach Okay re-upped for the 2012 Games in London, and once more for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, forcing the Spurs head coach, a five-time NBA champ, to wait three Olympic cycles for his large break. “I didn’t know this was going to be a lifetime appointment,” Popovich complained to one pal.
In the top, after Colangelo and his Beijing runner-up reached one thing of a peace accord, Popovich was lastly awarded the job of bringing residence the gold.
An Air Force Academy graduate who grew to become an all-time NBA teaching nice, Popovich completely deserved the nod. But now, in fact, comes the exhausting half. As the Tokyo Olympics get underway in Japan, the place nearly all of residents oppose the staging of the Summer Games amid a rising variety of COVID-19 circumstances, no person exterior of the IOC is going through extra stress than the pinnacle coach of the United States males’s basketball staff.
For starters, as a lot as Popovich believed Krzyzewski ought to’ve been a one-and-done, like most Olympic coaches earlier than him (Pop wasn’t the one main American basketball determine who felt that method), Coach Okay went 3-for 3-in gold-medal pursuits, although he did profit by having LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in Beijing and London.
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Popovich has additionally been a part of a sequence of disastrous worldwide outcomes involving NBA stars. He was George Karl’s assistant on the 2002 U.S. staff that completed sixth — on residence soil — on this planet championship event. He was Larry Brown’s assistant on the 2004 U.S. staff that received blown out by Puerto Rico within the Olympic opener in Athens and misplaced thrice in settling for the bronze. He was the pinnacle coach of the 2019 U.S. staff that positioned seventh within the FIBA World Cup.
He is the pinnacle coach of the 2021 U.S. staff that misplaced an exhibition sport to Nigeria, an almost 30-point underdog, and one other to Australia, earlier than making the journey to Japan, the place the Americans will open play Sunday morning in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, towards a powerful French staff.
Yes, the world has been closing the basketball hole on the U.S. because the 1992 Dream Team helped unfold the sport’s gospel across the globe. And sure, Popovich has some fairly rattling good excuses accessible to him within the occasion he wants to lean on them over the following couple of weeks.
For one, James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are amongst these not taking part in. For two, the pandemic pushed the NBA postseason into the third week of July, costing Popovich the sort of worthwhile pre-tournament time with gamers that Krzyzewski used to develop successful chemistry. (Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker simply completed the NBA Finals on Tuesday.)
But there isn’t a head coach within the Olympic discipline who wouldn’t commerce his roster for Popovich’s proper now, with or with out the apply reps. Popovich had Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum for the latest exhibition losses. If these three may ever kind an excellent staff, it might be instantly favored to win an NBA title, not to point out Olympic gold.
Popovich can play the tough guy when requested about his staff’s efficiency, or lack thereof, at a press convention, however he can’t escape the very fact the Americans ought to win this event regardless of the obstacles of their method. He can also’t escape the potential penalties of defeat.
Krzyzewski was so devastated when he misplaced to Greece within the semis of the 2006 world championships (it wasn’t even the Olympics), he needed to finish his profession on the spot. In his latest retirement press convention at Duke, Krzyzewski referred to as that second “the worst day of my life in coaching.” He by no means misplaced one other sport as Team USA’s coach.
At 72, Popovich may get just one crack at this. He can go down as one other Larry Brown, the one coach to lose an Olympic event with NBA gamers. Or he can be part of Krzyzewski, Rudy Tomjanovich, Lenny Wilkens and Chuck Daly as leaders who discovered a method to get their skilled stars to the home.
France has its own cast of NBA players, and sufficient expertise to present a gap check that received’t be the final the U.S. faces. Popovich greater than earned the precise to confront this problem, however his risk-reward ratio is alarming.
In case you’re protecting rating at residence, no American in Japan has extra to lose than Gregg Popovich does.