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Why does Gregg Popovich treat the press the way he does?

Gregg Popovich is not always cooperative or charming with the media. Think of him like Billy Joel being asked to sing "We didn't start the fire" again, and his approach makes a lot more sense.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

After the Game 6 loss, I was asked to appear on a few radio shows to talk about the end of the Spurs' season, and I was surprised how many times I was asked about Gregg Popovich's approach to the media in general and his last postgame presser in particular.

Apparently, the sharks were circling around Pop's prickly answers to a couple of the questions, especially the one about not going to a smaller lineup sooner, which got the reporter "Popped."

"What are you coaching now? You should really try not to do that."

If you've paid any attention to Popovich pressers over the years, you know that the longer it's been since game time, the more likely he is to give a decent answer. He's often very engaging on the occasions he has availability during morning shoot-arounds and can also give good stuff in pregame, when he speaks two hours before tip-off.

But right after a game, when the adrenaline of competition is still running through him? You might get a rare five-second soundbite like the one he gave about Ginobili 's game-winning shot in Game 1 of the 2013 semis against the Warriors.

I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow.

But by and large, Pop's answers won't be any more revealing or any less curt than the ones he typically gives during those sideline interviews between quarters.

I admit, for two years now I've been jealous of the Warriors media. They have it so good with Steve Kerr, I thought. Kerr is, by far, my favorite thing about that organization. He's just so open and giving of his time, both funny and comprehensive with his answers. He has his own version of "Popping" people when he gets an annoying question, an eye-roll and a sarcastic reply, but unlike Popovich he doesn't let the one sour question spoil his mood for the rest and quickly reverts back to his default mode.

At first, I thought it was just Kerr who did this, that he was the exception, with a naturally warm and sunny demeanor. He used to be a part of the media, after all, working for years as an analyst with Turner Sports. Maybe it was just in his personality to be friendly.

But looking around, they're pretty much all like that, and it's Pop who is the exception. Whether it's Billy Donovan or Brad Stevens or Stan Van Gundy or Mike Malone, just about every coach is good at answering questions --even the ones they don't necessarily like-- both pre-game and post-game. Heck, I remember being in a scrum with Kevin McHale last year, back when he was still the Rockets' coach, and he was so genuine that it led to one of my favorite pieces I've ever done. You see the quote sheets after the game the PR staffs transcribe, and inevitably the opposing coach's answers are five times as long as Pop's.

The thing about Pop's post-game pressers is that you simply cannot win. The only questions that he'll answer have to be the most general, broadest things possible. "What do you think the key to the win was?" or "How do you think Kawhi Leonard played?" Anything more complex or nuanced than that won't get much of an answer. And as a bonus, if all the questions are simple ones, he'll tease the reporters for asking only obvious questions, the ultimate Catch-22.

All coaches get asked questions they don't like, about strategies and adjustments and whatnot, and most skirt around them with generalities. Charlotte's Steve Clifford, who's really good with the press, answered a question about needing to make adjustments during the playoffs like this:

29 other coaches seem to accept that answering questions with a certain level of openness is a part of their job. And then there's Popovich, who prefers to operate in a significantly less revealing fashion.

It's not a question of just being a jerk. It's universally agreed upon by veteran reporters both local and national that Popovich is among the kindest, most giving people in the league -- when he's away from the microphones and cameras.

So what gives?

*   *   *

A colleague of mine came up with the analogy that Pop's approach to interviews are like a musician's approach to lyrics with a catchy song, a "Pop" song, if you will. The lyrics don't really mean anything, but because we hear them so often we make them out to be some profound bit of poetry.

My iPod is filled with hundreds of "one-hit" wonders. Whether we're talking about "Forever Young" from Alphaville or "Anything, Anything" from Dramarama or "Stacy's Mom" from Fountains of Wayne. Oftentimes these artists, who are still making new music and touring to this day, despise the very songs that are responsible for the lion's share of their fame and fortune. They've dedicated their whole lives to learning how to sing and play various instruments and here they are, reduced to warbling out the same trite words and the same predictable chord changes over and over until oblivion. These tortured souls can play their hits in their sleep by now and are probably afraid that they won't be able to escape them even in the afterlife, as if "Take On Me" will follow A-Ha into eternity.

I mean, look at this stuff.

We're talking away
I don't know what I'm to say
I'll say it anyway
Today's another day to find you
Shying away
I'll be coming for your love, okay?
Take on me, (take on me)
Take me on, (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two.
So needless to say
I'm odds and ends
I'll be stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is OK
Say after me
It's no better to be safe than sorry.
Take on me, (take on me)
Take me on, (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two.
Oh the things that you say
Is it live or
Just to play my worries away
You're all the things I've got to remember
You're shying away
I'll be coming for you anyway.
Take on me, (take on me)
Take me on, (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a dayI'll be gone (take on me)
In a day

Imagine having to sing that over and over, thousands of times, like it means anything, to people who paid good money to hear it. How can it not drive you mad?

If you parse Popovich's answers, they're like his version of hit singles, with the words often contradicting one another. In one breath he'll say how simple basketball is and in the next explain that it's a game of mistakes and if nobody made them the final score would be 10 to 8. He'll snap at a reporter about not being a coach, and then when asked about the finer details of a play, he'll say he's not running a clinic. He'll go to his well-worn lines about basketball being just a game, that there are much more important things going on in the world and that to fit in with the Spurs you need "to be over yourself," and then a minute later frown at the most innocuous observation, refusing to play along because it's "family business."

None of it means a thing to him. He's on autopilot, matching the closest stock answer to the question, based on an algorithm in his head. Reporters learn not to take it personally, because if the artifice of the press conference doesn't matter to him, why should it to them?

*   *   *

233 coaches have been dismissed since Popovich took over the Spurs bench in 1996. That works out to an average of eight firings for the other 29 teams. Since Pop's been coaching, his counterparts have been replaced every two-and-a-half years. They get to take a breath, decompress, maybe even do the media thing to see how the other half lives. When they get new jobs, it's rarely with franchises expected to contend year in and year out. There's pressure and scrutiny, but often more in terms of player development and general improvement than in having to win right away.

Maybe if other coaches had to be at the top of their games for 20 years without a break, they'd have less patience for the ancillary parts of the job than they do now. Maybe if they had as many championship rings as all the other active coaches combined (Erik Spoelstra has two, and Kerr, Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle have one apiece) they'd feel less inclination to suffer fools. Maybe there is a difference between being 67 and 47.

Or maybe it's just a way for the so-called experts to sprint away from those "Spurs in six" predictions and find something else to talk about. The Thunder were supposed to be the terrible, immature defensive team and Donovan was supposed to be the know-nothing figurehead, powerless against the whims of two diva superstars. The Spurs were supposed to be deeper, smarter, and more poised to win close games down the stretch. Everyone was so sure of these opinions that we took them as facts when they were educated guesses at best.

We're not smart enough (not without watching the film like a coach) to really know what went haywire against the Thunder. It's easier to shift the narrative to "Why is Pop so mean?"  But if the Spurs were playing the Warriors right now, no one would have cared what Pop said after Game 6. It's just the same old song.