To San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, it was just a casual Tuesday night victory over the Phoenix Suns. To everyone else inside the AT&T Center and around the NBA, it was much more. The 111-86 final score meant history.
With the victory, the 69-year-old Popovich passed legendary coach Pat Riley for fourth place on the all-time coaching wins list with 1,211. The milestone was obviously unsurprising. It was only a matter of time before he climbed the ranks and it was cool to see it happen on the home floor he has helped the Spurs dominate since he took over the sidelines in 1996.
The game was far from perfect, but it still helped the Spurs earn their third-straight win. Point guard Bryn Forbes led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds, forward LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points, and Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham and Marco Belinelli each scored in double figures to pick up the slack of NBA All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, who had a rare off-night scoring but dished out nine assists.
The logistics of the game — the fact San Antonio shot 49 percent from the field, including 62 percent from 3-point range, won the rebounding battle, and committed 15 turnovers — are all things Coach Pop will take from the contest.
It had nothing to do with the the feat that now puts him only behind Don Nelson, Lenny Wikens and Jerry Sloan on the all-time list.
In fact, according to ESPN, Popovich, the basketball king of interview answers, left the postgame press conference before any reporter could ask him about it. He was told of the milestone after the fact, too, and still shrugged it off.
“You guys have a good evening,” he told reporters.
That’s exactly who Popovich is, though: Humble and not concerned of personal achievements. He was the fastest NBA coach to reach the 1,200 mark (1,743 games) and only needs six more road victories to be first place in all-time road wins.
It’s amazing Popovich, an Merrville, Indiana native and Air Force graduate, has done it all with the San Antonio Spurs franchise.
So how close is the five-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Coach of the Year, and four-time NBA All-Star Game head coach from being No. 1 on the all-time wins list in NBA history?
The number: 125.
In 22 seasons, before the 2018-19 campaign, Popovich won at least 50 games in all but three years. It’s almost like clockwork.
So as long as Gregg Popovich remains the Spurs coach and doesn’t retire, he will most likely reach the mark for coaching victories during the 2020-21 regular season.
It will surpass the 1,335 wins set by Don Nelson, who coached the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks from 1976 to 2010.
And what a milestone that would be.