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Leadership: Lesson in Pop Management

You don’t care that every time your team gets to the NBA Finals the rest of the country shrugs. You don’t mind that the nickname for your best player is “The Big Fundamental.” You could care less that your team might be the third most popular NBA team in Texas. But one thing that you care about is that your team has just won its fourth NBA title in nine years. You are Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

You don’t care that every time your team gets to the NBA Finals the rest of the country shrugs. You don’t mind that the nickname for your best player is “The Big Fundamental.” You could care less that your team might be the third most popular NBA team in Texas. But one thing that you care about is that your team has just won its fourth NBA title in nine years. You are Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Few coaches have won four titles, that’s three more than your mentor the legendary NBA coach Larry Brown often considered one of the very best in the game.

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Popovich, or Pop as he is known to his players and friends, is a throwback to the days when NBA coaches actually coached. He is skilled at the fundamentals as well as understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his opposition. He is teach and mentor, and for many an all-around great guy. He’s simply not Broadway, or Hollywood, South Beach or even the Windy City. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Pop is a coach’s coach. And for that reason, Greg Popovich is a good role model of managers to study. Here are three reasons why:

He can teach. The NBA is known as a player’s league. Not in San Antonio, however. Tim Duncan is the star power forward and maybe one of the very best of all-time to play the position but his self-effacement and willingness to listen to Pop opens the door for everyone else on the team for follow his example.

He can outsmart the opposition. San Antonio is a team that makes adjustments. Usually their game plans hold up but when they find themselves getting outfoxed and outsmarted, Pop calls a timeout and shares his lesson plan for the moment. Duncan mans the post better than anyone; Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are strong scorers. And the rest of the players fall into place, enabling the team to compete as a cohesive unit.

He can sustain. The Spurs just captured their fourth championship title in nine years. Only one player, Duncan, is a veteran of all four teams. That means, Popovich, together with team management, has assembled a team of stars and role players who meld as a team for one purpose: to win. ESPN’s john@johnbaldoni.com www.johnbaldoni.com