Spurs’ Gregg Popovich becomes NBA regular-season wins leader

San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) heads for the basket against Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, in San Antonio.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) heads for the basket against Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


Gregg Popovich’s name tops the NBA’s regular season win list. He views it more as a group accomplishment.

“We all share that record,” Popovich said Friday night after earning his record 1,336th win as the San Antonio Spurs rallied to beat the Utah Jazz 104-102. “It’s not mine. It’s ours here in town.

Popovich broke a tie with Don Nelson, the friend and mentor he served under while he was with Golden State for two seasons. The milestone came in Popovich’s 2,030th game and 26th season with the Spurs, the only franchise for which he served as head coach.

“It’s just a testimonial for a lot of people,” Popovich said. “Something like that does not belong to a single individual. Basketball is a team sport. You preach to your players that they have to do it together and that has certainly been the case in my life with all the wonderful players and coaches, the staff I have been blessed with, the support of this wonderful city. The fans support us no matter what.”

Unsurprisingly, the evening passed without fanfare. That is, until the end – the players assaulted Popovich, 73, at the end of the game, jumping up and hugging him until he could break free and walk towards the cloakrooms. Popovich was doused with a water cooler and huge roars could be heard from the locker room as Spurs celebrated with Hall of Famer David Robinson.

“Tonight he had to take advantage of it,” said Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray. “He did not have a choice.”

Praise or celebration of any achievement is usually deflected abruptly or simply ignored by Popovich. To hear Popovich explain it, he simply shows up at work and rolls the ball down the field.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

He is the fourth coach since the end of the NBA’s first season to top the winning list. Red Auerbach held the mark for about half a century, followed by Lenny Wilkens, followed by Nelson – and now, Popovich.

“The ironic thing is that Nellie gave me a job when I didn’t have one in 1992,” Popovich said. “He took me in. To be in that position, like the same breath as him, is in my opinion undignified and quite embarrassing because he’s been so wonderful in saving my family (behind). So it’s ironic that I’m sitting here in this situation.

Popovich’s first stint in San Antonio ended in 1992, working for Larry Brown – until the entire coaching staff was fired. It was then that Popovich got a job as an assistant at Golden State, working for Nelson for two seasons. He returned to Spurs in 1994 and took over as manager in 1996.

Spurs released video of Nelson after the game, congratulating Popovich – whom he called one of his best friends – and telling him how proud he was of his former assistant’s accomplishments “and all the wonderful things that you have done for basketball, all over the world.”

“I’m so proud of you for doing it,” Nelson said. “I couldn’t wait for this day to come.”

Popovich has won five NBA championships and 13 division titles and was recently named one of the 15 greatest coaches in league history. He coached NBA 75th Anniversary Team members Robinson and Tim Duncan, future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as well as journeymen who found careers in San Antonio such as Danny Green and current NBA coaches Steve Kerr, Monty Williams, Ime Udoka and Doc Rivières.

“Gregg Popovich’s success with Spurs is unprecedented in our league, so it’s fitting that he now holds the record for most career wins,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. communicated.

“His leadership and unwavering commitment to the game is widely admired by generations of players and coaches. Congratulations to Coach Pop on this latest achievement in his storied career.

San Antonio won 50 games for a league-record 18 consecutive seasons from 2000 to 2017 under Popovich. Spurs tied a league record with 22 straight playoff appearances but have missed two consecutive playoffs since their streak ended in 2017.

While the glory days seem distant, Popovich continues to plug in.

Popovich joked that coaching Duncan, Parker and Ginobili got “boring” because they knew everything. The current list is the antithesis of that.

“For what he means to the profession to so many people and to myself,” said Utah coach Quin Snyder, who coached G League side Spurs from 2007 to 2010. “It’s sort of the natural evolution of what it should be based on the integrity that this program has won with for so many years and him being the leader and personifying it.”

This year’s team is the youngest of Popovich’s career. The Spurs have fully embraced an accelerated rebuild by the forced departure of Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio as well as the retirement of the Big Three.

Murray, who became the team’s new star, had 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the Spurs past the Jazz. Murray made two free throws with 4.8 seconds and 1 of 2 with one second remaining to seal the victory.

“We did it for Pop,” Murray said. “(We wanted Popovich) to really understand that and be grateful for it. It doesn’t happen. It’s rare. He deserves it. That’s a great man. A great coach.”

The 17-footer from Murray tied at 84 with 5:28 remaining to close an 18-3 run by Spurs. Lonnie Walker IV made two of three free throws to put San Antonio up 96-95 for their first lead since Josh Richardson’s 15-footer put them ahead 5-3 1:31 into the game.

Donovan Mitchell had 24 points for Utah and Rudy Gobert added 13 points and 16 rebounds.

Former Spurs forward Rudy Gay pulled Utah to 103-102 on a 3-pointer with 1.0 seconds left.

“None of us are coaching for records,” Popovich said. “We do it for wins like tonight.”


Jazz: Sacramento host on Saturday nights.

Spurs: Host Indiana on Saturday night.


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Naomi C. Amerson