As we continue our journey through San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s quarter-century worth of assistant coaches, today we discuss Don Newman.
Newman was originally drafted in 1980 by the Boston Celtics, but was cut two days before the regular season started to make room on the roster for Nate Archibald. Instead, Don found himself with the Montana Golden Nuggets of the Continental Basketball Association. Montana’s new head coach George Karl had just spent six seasons with the Spurs, four as a player and two as an assistant coach. The Golden Nuggets only existed for the three seasons in which Karl was coach and Newman was playing guard for all three years.
Don Newman is one of those unique athletes who played two professional sports simultaneously. In 1981 he tried out for the Seattle Seahawks despite the fact that he had never played football. He ended up playing in the Canadian Football League with four different teams over five seasons while still playing for the Golden Nuggets.
In addition to basketball and football, Newman was inducted into the University of Idaho athletics hall of fame for his role at centerfield for the Vandal’s baseball team.
Newman moved into coaching in 1986, first at the high school level for a season before swiftly moving into collegiate ball.
By 1999, Don Newman made his NBA assistant coaching debut under his former Golden Nuggets coach George Karl with the Milwaukee Bucks. He stayed with the Bucks until Karl was fired in 2003.
Newman moved New Jersey to work with Byron Scott, but Scott was fired midseason after a 22-20 start and rumors swirling of a rift between he and Jason Kidd. At the end of that season, Don Newman made his way to San Antonio.
Newman worked alongside Pop for eight seasons, including the 2005 and 2007 NBA title runs. Pop described Newman as “a competitor. He was one of those tough guys. He had a great sense of humor, a great love for people and the game. He was a character in his own right. We’d cry a little bit and laugh a little bit. The crying was for obvious reasons, but the laughing was just because he was who he was.”
In 2012, Don left San Antonio for Washington and joined Randy Wittman’s coaching staff. Wittman took over for Flip Saunders the previous season after Saunders was fired for his 2-15 start to the season. Wittman spent four full seasons before being fired in 2016 after failing to get the Wizards into the postseason.
Newman retired from coaching and sometime shortly thereafter developed brain cancer. He passed away three years ago today.
He was remembered in a 2018 interview fondly by Coach Pop. “Donnie was a special man. He had a tough road for the last few years . . . he went through hell . . . with other coaches, we’ve gotten with (his family) and remembered who Donnie was.”
A veritable outpouring of love and respect on Twitter followed from former players, coaches, and teammates. Wizards’ star (at the time) John Wall added
“He was one of the great people I’ve been around. Just the culture he brought from the [San Antonio] Spurs system to our team and the confidence he had in and the ability he believed in me.”
To have been a part of the Spurs organization for so long, and through a high point of Spurs history, it is hard not to rank Don Newman’s time in San Antonio as some of the most beloved and important.
We miss you, Don!
Next up: Chad Forcier
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