|12 February 2013|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is full of praise for his French point guard Tony Parker |
Taking into consideration that Gregg Popovich was born in Indiana, the hotbed of basketball in the US, to a Serbian father and a Croatian mother, his love for the orange ball game seems almost an inevitability.
His background though was not a guarantee that he would become one of the most well-respected basketball coaches in the world, win multiple NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs in the process, and have already secured his place in the pantheon of American basketball.
Beyond the silverware and the success though, the main reason coach 'Pop' is so universally acclaimed has to do with his outspoken personality.
When he talks, the basketball world listens, and his words never leave anyone indifferent.
Popovich's utter respect for basketball outside the US borders in general, and Europe in particular, is not a secret and he has expressed it on multiple occasions.
The latest came on Monday, in comments made to website basketball.realgm.com.
"[Europeans] taught us a lot of lessons for a long time," he said.
"I think it might be getting a little better now, but skills-wise Europeans got way ahead of us.
"Shooting skills, passing skills, ball handling skills, team play, and movement of the ball.
"For a good while we were really being beaten in those areas and it showed in the play of our young players.
"I think it's added a lot to the game having these coaches and these players from overseas be in the league and be able to watch what they've done."
Popovich's respect is not limited to European players.
"There are coaches overseas that are as good or better than we, who are the coaches here," he said.
Earlier that same day, following Tony Parker's majestic 29-point, 11-rebound display in San Antonio's 111-86 win over the Brooklyn Nets, Popovich referred to the leader of the French national team as a 'beyond All-Star level' player.
Two more France internationals, Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo, as well as Argentinian superstar Manu Ginobili and Brazilian center Thiago Splitter, who made a name for themselves playing in Italy and Spain, respectively, are also under the orders of Popovich in San Antonio.
But the boss of the Spurs is not short on praise for Europeans playing elsewhere in the NBA, from Dirk Nowitzki of arch rivals Dallas Mavericks to the four European stars on the books of Minnesota, Montenegro international Nikola Pekovic, Spanish international Ricky Rubio and the Russian duo of rookie Alexey Shved and the 2012 FIBA Europe Player of the Year, Andrei Kirilenko.
Popovich exploded in indignation recently when a Minneapolis-based journalist asked him whether he thought Rubio could adapt to the American way of life.
"These guys, they travel around the world," he replied.
"They're more cultured than we are. Everyone acts like Americans are the ones... we have sort of an arrogance about us. Like we're the cultured ones? Are you serious? Have you watched TV lately? Have you seen what Americans do? How many languages do you speak? And you wonder how they're going to adjust to our culture? I hope they avoid it and keep their own!"
In 2010, Popovich famously caused a stir (not for the first or the last time) by expressing his opposition to the use of the term 'world champions' by the NBA.
"It's not appropriate. The world champions, I believe, are the Spanish team right now. USA is the Olympic champion. The Lakers are the NBA champion," he said.
"It doesn't make sense for an NBA team to call themselves world champions.
"I don't remember anybody playing anybody outside our borders to get that tag. Isn't that true?
"There's a big world out there."