Because of the importance of this piece, it’s been carefully vetted by editor emeritus Sidd Finch. As with my conversation with Danny Green two years ago, this grew out of a phone call late last night – actually just past midnight. Content has been lightly edited in order to minimize confusion and profanity.
The participants are me, of course, and a person with long-time ties to the San Antonio Spurs organization. In order to maintain anonymity, I can only refer to him by his initials: GP. (For those who are unaware, I was an assistant coach at Claremont McKenna College in California while the Spurs head coach was at Claremont’s neighboring rival school, Pomona Pitzer.)
GP: Sorry to call so late. But this is important.
ME: (sleepily): Who is this?
GP: You know who this is. Wake up. This is important.
ME: What is important?
GP: I’m done. Done. I wanted you to know first.
ME: Done? Done with what?
GP: The Spurs. The NBA. The whole thing.
ME: [EDITED TO ELIMAINATE PROFANITY]
GP: No, I mean it. I want to go home.
ME: Home? What the [edited] does that mean? Where are you going?
GP: Home. The Pomona Pitzer Sagehens. You of all people should know what I mean. My last head coaching job before San Antonio. I loved it there.
Pure basketball. D-3 players, no athletic scholarships, no “one-and-dones”. Players playing because they love the game. Me and my team. No post-game interviews. No “live look-ins”. And no damn [profanity approved] between-quarter TV interviews. (Though I have chosen to be charming recently instead of grouchy, have you noticed?)
ME: (Why, yes, I have noticed. Relatively speaking, of course.) But -- why now?
GP: Why not now? I have accomplished much more than I have ever expected, and more than anyone else expected. I have put on this grouchy/sarcastic/witty charade long enough.
ME: When you have been “witty”?
GP: Fair enough. But it is time to do what I always wanted to do -- teach history and political science, mold young minds to enable and encourage them to make a change in the world. Oh, and because Manu is probably going to retire.
ME: What does Manu retiring have to do with you leaving the Spurs?
GP: You must be kidding. The Spurs won’t be nearly as much fun without Manu. It won’t be the same. And Manu’s example will help my teaching. His passion, his will to win, his self-sacrifice. All of these are the best examples of what the world needs. Do you remember how he took a charge in his first game back after the Injury That Will Not Be Named?
ME: I DO! I was there. Scared the [profanity] out of me, and all the other males in attendance.
GP: Can you think of a single politician who would have taken that charge?
ME: Uh, no. But then again most of them would have gone for the block instead...
GP: EXACTLY!! Show-boating politicians, all of ‘em. If I go back to college, I can teach future leaders that taking a charge is more selfless and more valuable than trying to swat the shot into the bleachers. One shows up the box score, one doesn’t. And the one that doesn’t show up in the stats means more than the other.
ME: Wow, that’s true. But Claremont has been dominating the league for years. Even with your coaching, can Pomona Pitzer ever beat the Stags?
GP: Good point. Probably not. But the challenge will make life worth living. And I will focus on teaching, both on the court and in the classroom. With everything going on in the world, teaching means more than wins and losses. Well, almost as much. Losing still sucks.
ME: All true.
GP: My first class will be titled: “What Has Manu Ginobili Taught Us About World Peace?” The final exam might be “The Great Duncan -- Compare and Contrast TD with Shaq, through the lens of The United Nations.”
ME: I would definitely take that class. I might even pass it. You will probably work in how the Spurs have had the most diverse team ever – and it succeeded!
GP: Damn right [profanity approved].
ME: Everything you say makes a lot of sense. But there must be another reason you are walking away from the best job in the world -- great town, great organization, great players, a legacy of success. There must be something else.
GP: Well, or course there is: HEB.
GP: Have you ever seen me in an HEB commercial? Nope. Everyone else on the Spurs gets to do those commercials, but not ol’ Coach Pop. Explain that. As of today, April 1, Becky is the new head coach of the Spurs. And she will be great.
I’m outta here, no fooling
ME and GP: Actually, fooling. Have a great April 1.
GP: I was serious about the HEB thing though. I would be great in one of those commercials.