It’s no secret that rare exception, the San Antonio Spurs have always been a tightly knit group, and that in turn has a played a huge role in their dynastic success over the last two decades. Even as the dynasty has completely turned over to a new set of players this season, the success and comradely continues in no small part thanks to the one common denominator throughout it all: Gregg Popovich.
Everyone knows that Pop, who has become a well renowned connoisseur of wine and fine cuisine, loves his team dinners. They are bonding opportunities for the players and a chance to relax and hang out in a different environment than work: something anyone in any work field would tell you is good for business and overall workplace mentality.
However, the Spurs aren’t the only team who have team dinners, so what makes them any different? Why is it so successful and important to them? ESPN went on a quest to find out.
In the NBA, the Gregg Popovich meal is the dining room where it happens — a roving retreat through which the Spurs have forged a team culture that’s the envy of the league. But for those in the league who’ve not secured the invite, Pop’s legendary dinners remain shrouded in mystery and no small amount of fascination.
And so it was that over the past 18 months we talked to dozens of NBA and college coaches, current and former NBA players, team executives, chefs and sommeliers, all to answer a question: Why does Popovich — the NBA’s all-time winningest coach and architect of a two-decades-long basketball dynasty — care so damn much about dinner?
We learn what made Pop of lover of wine and fine cuisine, and how he began passing his knowledge on to his peers as far back when he landed his first coaching gig at tiny Pomona-Pitzer College, located in the hills east of Los Angeles. He would carry on the tradition of team dinners all the way to the NBA, where every Spurs would tell you how important they are.
“Dinners help us have a better understanding of each individual person, which brings us closer to each other — and, on the court, understand each other better,” former Spurs guard Danny Green says. On the road, whenever possible, the Spurs tend to stay over and fly out the next morning. “So we can have that time together,” former San Antonio center Pau Gasol says. “I haven’t been a part of that anywhere else. And players know the importance of it as well — and how important it is to Pop.”
Not only has Pop built one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports with his tradition, but he has left plenty of goodwill in its wake, with four-digit tips, and passing his knowledge to humble sommeliers and general managers who have learned plenty from him as well.
The entire thing is a fascinating read and sheds even more light on the private life of the outwardly curmudgeonly but not-so-secretly lovable coach, so be sure to check the entire thing out.