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What If Gregg Popovich Got Fired During The 1999 Season?

In Part 2 of NBA GameTime’s What If series on NBA TV, the focus was San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. What if he was fired before he got that first championship in 1999 with Tim Duncan and David Robinson?  Seems as if that was a real possibility. 

Pop was on the hot seat,  said former San Antonio Spurs player Avery Johnson, who played for the Spurs before Pop and after (1991, 92-93, 94-01).

Avery Johnson Speaks About Greg Popovich on Mike and Mike

This is Avery Johnson reflecting on moments with his former and still active coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Greg Popovich. NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED I do not own or have rights to this video, music, or ESPN, and it is for entertainment purposes only.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was also a guard on that Spurs team from 1998-01 and then 2002-03.  We were 6-8. I think the Jazz blew us out Kerr said. We looked awful. We got Duncan and Robinson and we’re one of the favorites to get to the (NBA) Finals. Doc Rivers was doing our TV games and theres rumors that Doc is gonna take over for Pop.

When the lockout shortened 1999 season began, Popovich was a nobody and the slow development of that championship team were almost his demise. 

At the time, there was a lot of tension brewing within the organization and they were questioning whether or not Pop was that guy. After the double-digit home loss to Utah that saw Pop get ejected, the team traveled to Houston with the future of the season in the air and rumors of the coachs imminent firing. 

What If Gregg Popovich Was Fired? | NBA GameTime | Dec 28, 2017

Casey Stern looks back to ponder what if Gregg Popovich had been fired by the Spurs early on in his coaching tenure with the team.

We loved Pop, said NBA analyst Antonio Daniels, who played for Pop from 1998-2002. And this is before Gregg Popovich of today, 2017-18 with the five championships and the resume that he has. This was the Gregg Popovich of no championships. 

What I remember so clearly is Pop so stable and comfortable in his own shoes and he wasn’t panicking. He was just urging us to continue to work on our weaknesses and we would get there, Kerr said. 

Legend now has it, Pop’s players called a team meeting in Houston that may have saved his career. The meeting was called by Avery Johnson. All the coaches and staff got off the bus and Johnson led the meeting and talked about what the team needed to do. 

Johnson credits Pop, an assistant with the Golden State Warriors when Johnson played there, with saving his career. 

He gave me an opportunity to come to San Antonio and keep my career going. Out of a sense of loyalty to Pop I wanted to make sure he was taken care of, said Johnson when explaining why he called the team meeting. Let the team know how passionate I was about helping to save his career.

The Spurs dominated the Rockets in a 17-point win. 

That was really the key game in my mind, in Pops entire career, Kerr said. We go to Houston.The rumor mill is flying. Docs gonna be the coach. We kicked Houstons butt and we did not look back.

San Antonio finished the shortened regular season on a 31-5 run and the rest is history. They powered past the Lakers and then rode Sean Elliott’s clutch, looping three-pointer against Portland in Game 2 of the 1999 Western Conference Finals to the Championship. The Spurs went 15-2 in the NBA playoffs and clinched the title over a Patrick Ewing-less Knicks squad with Avery Johnsons three-pointer from the corner with less than a minute left in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. 

Spurs 1999 Finals Game 5 vs Knicks Look Back

Take a look back at the San Antonio Spurs win their first NBA Championship. The Spurs beat the Knicks 4 game to 1 in their 1999 championship run.

If that meeting was never called, Pop may have been fired and the golden legacy and lineage of coaches he has nurtured and guided into the sport, the championships, the gold medals – everything would be different. 

If Pop was fired, do the Spurs win in 1999 and does Tim Duncan re-sign with them? If Duncan didnt re-sign, would the Spurs even still be in San Antonio right now? 

Gregg Popovich bids emotional farewell to Tim Duncan

An emotional Popovich bids farewell to Duncan, with thanks.

I’m glad the Spurs didn’t fire Pop, Johnson said, because if they did, who knows, they might be on their 10th coach in the last 17 years instead of one. 

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