Gregg Popovich was the coach nobody wanted.
It’s hard to fathom now, after five NBA championships as coach of the San Antonio Spurs and with him now alone in fifth place on the league’s all-time victory list. But it’s true — Popovich’s decision to fire Bob Hill and make himself coach and general manager in December 1996 was horribly received at first, leaving even some of his own players baffled.
The San Antonio Express-News took a poll after that season and found that 92 percent of Spurs fans wanted Popovich fired.
As Popovich would suggest now (on politics, one of his favorite topics), sometimes voters get it wrong.
“The pressure is always there for any coach,” Popovich said. “You’ve got to get the job done. If you don’t, you’re not there. If you do get it done, you get to stay.”
He said those words in 1997. He was right.
Popovich now has 1,176 wins. He’s 34 away from No. 4 Pat Riley, 45 shy of No. 3 Jerry Sloan, and should catch both next season. He would need 156 to catch No. 2 Lenny Wilkens, and 159 to match No. 1 Don Nelson’s record of 1,335.
“Doesn’t mean anything, except I’ve had good players and I’ve been coaching for eons,” Popovich said.
NEW KING OF NY
Indiana’s Lance Stephenson is about to lose a record.
Stephenson is the all-time leading scorer in New York high school basketball, with 2,946 points — tops in a state that produced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Christian Laettner, Kenny Anderson and so many others.
Joseph Girard III of Glens Falls High School — only a junior — is on pace to pass Stephenson later this month. JG3, as he’s known, has 2,592 career points and is averaging 48.3 per game this season. In December he broke the school record that was held by Jimmer Fredette, who played with four NBA teams over five seasons and is now scoring at will in China.
“I might definitely give him some props,” said Stephenson, who set the mark in 2009. “It was tough scoring all those points and helping my team win, and he’s about to do it as a junior. That’s incredible.”
Stephenson was a high school star at Abraham Lincoln, leading his team to four consecutive New York City championships and a pair of state…