As mentioned previously, an article entitled “Pop’s Incredible Longevity” revealed that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has coached against 307 different NBA coaches during his twenty-eight year tenure at the helm.
Since the firing of Bob Hill in 1996, Pop has consistently coached the Spurs, give or take an ejection or two. Tonight the Spurs face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Before the Thunder blasted in Oklahoma City, Seattle was SuperSonic. And back in 1996 when Pop took the clipboard, he faced former Spurs point guard George Karl who was the head coach of the Super Sonics from 1992-1998. This was not be the last time the two met as Karl went on to coach the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets, and Sacramento Kings before retiring in 2016.
Paul Westphal (1998-2000) spent two season with the SuperSonics before being fired fifteen games into his third season. He would face Pop again during his stint in Sacramento 2009-2012.
Nate McMillan took over for Westphal in 2000 and stayed on as head coach until 2005 when Pop and the Spurs knocked Seattle out of the playoffs in the Western Conference Semifinals on the way to their third title.
McMillan left Seattle and has since coached in Portland, Indianapolis, and Atlanta where he was fired last season when the Hawks entered the All-Star Break below .500.
Former Spurs head coach Bob Weiss started the 2005-2006 season but lost the job before he could coach against Popovich. Instead, Pop competed against Bob Hill, Weiss’ replacement and the man Popovich fired and replaced at the start of this journey.
Hill won one of the three meetings. The next year the Spurs won all four meetings with the SuperSonics under Hill, thus effectively ending his NBA head coaching career.
P. J. Carlesimo left his assistant coaching job with the San Antonio Spurs to take over the helm in Seattle, being the SuperSonics last coach in Seattle and the first in Oklahoma City. His time in OKC was shortened by a 1-12 start to the 2008-2009 season. He was fired and replaced by assistant Scott Brooks, who was with the Thunder for six more seasons, ushering in their best run in over a decade. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team made their only Finals appearance in 2012 against the LeBron James Heat.
Brooks left the Thunder after 2015 and was replaced by Billy Donovan who was with the team until 2020. The Thunder made the postseason every year of Donovan’s tenure and endured many changes as key players entered and exited. Donovan left amicably as OKC went into a rebuild.
Donovan’s departure made way for Mark Daigneault, who spent one season as an assistant after serving as head coach of the Oklahoma City Blue (G-League affiliate) for five seasons.
Daigneault is the Thunder’s current coach, and the eighth with which Pop has done battle.
There will be a battle worth watching between Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren tonight as the Spurs hope to get back into the In-Season Tournament race.
[I want to give a shout out to my dad today, who took me to my first ever Spurs game and has fed my fandom ever since. He turns 80 today. I’m grateful to be close to my dad, emotionally and in proximity. I wrote a song about him a while back. Everyone should be so furtunate.]
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