clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Gregg Popovich and LeBron James respond to adversity

They're from different backgrounds, have different approaches, and represent different generations. Their situations and challenges couldn't be more dissimilar. But all the same, there's a mirror image between these two men.

Andy Lyons

Two weeks ago, the Spurs posted two sentences to their page on, stating that Gregg Popovich would coach the Spurs for an unspecified number of additional seasons. Two days later, LeBron James had an essay published in Sports Illustrated announcing his decision to return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers. And the world proceeded to freak out.

The sky turned red as hordes of the once-burned, torn-apart LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey again found themselves in Ohio streets. The name of LeBron James was uttered not with the dread of mentioning Lord Voldemort, but rather with the affectionate tone of Ferris Bueller. Dan Gilbert actually welcomed him back to Cleveland, and he's going to let his son wear James' jersey.

Much is revealed by this difference in approaches, but the first is that while Pop doesn't need to prove himself to San Antonio, a city that has accepted him as one of its own, LeBron James is reacquainting himself to the city that used to count him among its favorite sons.

Pop has managed the helm of the Spurs like no other -- he develops and shapes his players. He adapts his system to adjust to rule and roster changes. He has set a standard that he adheres to stubbornly. The community that supports the team knows this. They see the passion in his coaching. His never-ending desire for his players to succeed. At every opportunity, he hands the credit to the players.

James is the best basketball player in the world. He has the potential to completely change any game at any time and he's capable of doing virtually whatever his team needs of him. He is no ordinary Swiss Army knife -- he is the knife with lasers, a television, a kitchen sink. He does everything at an elite level. But he left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010. He was subject to irrational acts of hatred, brought on by the way he left his hometown. His jersey was burned, his former supporters booed his every accomplishment, and owner Dan Gilbert wrote a recklessly emotional letter.

But the idea of home is alluring and persistent. Familiar smells conjure memories. The scent hits quickly, and the thoughts linger. The local spots that he knows like the back of his hand -- they're ubiquitous. His posse will have the freedom they once knew. This is their home.

He has put the city's hate in the past and is has come back to Cleveland. However, the scars that he left will take a while to heal, as will the scars from the injuries he received. James has no need to prove himself with his play -- he is the best player in the world. He will prove himself by giving his all, like Gregg Popovich has for San Antonio.

Pop hasn't been perfect in his time of managing the Spurs. His team has left its fair share of scars in the hearts of Spurs fans. And he's felt the pain himself, but he has always come back.

He was continually faced with the dreadful end to the 2013 season. He repeatedly saw it all: the first shot, the rebound, the next shot -- over and over. It's a scene he said played out in his mind every passing day. He was stuck in an endless loop of all the events that unfolded. Until his daughter snapped him out of it.

She reminded him that he had already won four championships. She reminded him that he had the opportunity to win another one. She reminded him that other coaches never even get to the point where he got. And she reminded him to get over himself. It was as if the coach was talking to himself

And he started his recovery, which extended to his staff, the whole team, and finally, the whole city.

So yes, LeBron James can begin healing his own scars, and his city's as well. But there's one thing to know about healing fresh wounds.

It's not as easy as Pop made it seem.