Childhood & Early Life
Gregg Charles Popovich was born on January 28, 1949, in East Chicago, Indiana, as the son of Raymond and Katherine Popovich. Both of his parents were immigrants. His father was originally from Serbia while his mother was from Croatia.
Popovich’s love for basketball developed quite early in his life. As a youth, he started playing Biddy Basketball and joined the Gary Biddy Basketball All-Star Team in 1960. They participated in the World Tournament, held at Gary's Memorial Auditorium, and secured a third-place finish for themselves.
Popovich studied at Merrillville High School before enrolling at the United States Air Force Academy. He was on the academy’s basketball team for the next four years and became the team captain and leading scorer in his final year.
He graduated from the academy in 1970 with a degree in Soviet studies and after receiving Air Force intelligence training. He considered a career with Central Intelligence Agency for a brief period but later changed his mind.
Serving the required five years of active duty in the US Air Force, Popovich was a member of the US Armed Forces’ basketball team and went to Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia to compete there.
He was picked as the captain of the team in 1972 and led the US Armed Forces basketball team to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship win. Popovich’s performance in the championship also garnered him an invitation to the 1972 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team trials.
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In 1973, Gregg Popovich came back to the United States Air Force Academy to serve under head coach Hank Egan as the assistant coach. He would be with the academy for the following six years.
While he was employed as part of the coaching staff of the academy, Popovich decided to continue his education. He subsequently enrolled at the University of Denver to pursue a master's degree in physical education and sports sciences.
He joined the small, private, liberal arts colleges Pomona and Pitzer as the head coach of their men’s team in 1979. The two colleges share an athletic department. During his nine-year tenure there, he guided the team to their first outright title in 68 years.
While he was coaching at Pomona-Pitzer, Popovich became a protégé of Larry Brown, the head coach of the University of Kansas. They gradually developed a deep bond of friendship.
In 1985, Popovich took a sabbatical and spent half a season as a volunteer assistant at Kansas. This gave him the opportunity to work directly under Brown. In the following season, he returned to his duties at Pomona-Pitzer.
After the 1987-88 season, Gregg Popovich resigned from his position at Pomona-Pitzer and accompanied Brown as his assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. For the next four years, he was Brown’s top assistant and played a pivotal role in the team’s divisional wins in 1990 and 1991.
In 1992, Spurs’ entire coaching staff was fired by its then owner Red McCombs. While Brown took up a job as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Popovich went to serve under future Hall of Famer Don Nelson for Golden State Warriors.
In 1993, Peter Halt bought the San Antonio Spurs and hired Popovich as the general manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations. Popovich’s first action in his new position was to recruit Avery Johnson as the team's starting point guard. He also brought Will Perdue from the Chicago Bulls, trading him for Dennis Rodman.
Following a disappointing start to the 1996-97 season, Popovich decided to let head coach Bob Hill go and assumed those duties himself. The Spurs were plagued with injuries that season and finished the season with a 20-62 record. This was the last time the Spurs have missed the playoffs to date.
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Popovich built up his team gradually over the years and in 1999, the Spurs won their first ever NBA Championship. They defeated the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals 4 games to one and Spurs’ Tim Duncan received the NBA Finals MVP accolade.
In 2002, Popovich resigned from his position as the general manager in favour of R. C. Buford, who had been the team's head scout for eight years. They had both started under Brown in 1988 and it was Popovich who recruited Buford as the head scout when he came back to the Spurs.
Popovich won his second NBA Championship with the Spurs in 2003, after defeating New Jersey Nets in the finals. This is the year when he also won the NBA Coach of the Year for the first time.
The Spurs, with him as the head coach, has won three more NBA Championships to date. In 2005, they defeated the Detroit Pistons, in 2007, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and in 2014, Miami Heat. He also won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 2012 and 2014 and was named the NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2005, 2011, 2013, and 2016.
After winning the NBA Coach of the Year Award the third time, Popovich received the Red Auerbach Trophy on April 22, 2014. On August 1, 2015, Popovich guided the Team Africa as their head coach at the 2015 NBA Africa exhibition game.
On February 4, 2017, he overtook Utah Jazz’s Jerry Sloan’s record of winning most games with one franchise after the Spurs registered their 1,128th victory under him.
Besides coaching in the NBA, Popovich has contributed to the US national basketball as well. During the 2002 FIBA World Championship, Popovich served under George Karl on the coaching staff for the US national team.
He also served in the same capacity at the 2003 FIBA America Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament and the 2004 Olympic Games. Popovich was selected as the new head coach of the US men's national team on October 23, 2015 and took over his duties in this position after the end of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gregg Popovich and his wife Erin had two children together, daughter Jill Popovich and son Micky Popovich. On April 18, 2018, after four decades of marriage, Erin passed away at the age of 67.
Over the years, Popovich has invested considerable money and time in several charities and non-profit organizations. He is involved with San Antonio Food Bank, Innocence Project, and Shoes That Fit. He is also part of fundraising for J/P HRO, a non-profit organization founded by Sean Penn after the Haiti earthquake.