Imagine David Stern as Gregg Popovich’s high school teacher many years ago. Many, many, many years ago.
Popovich undoubtedly would have been the class jester, playing all sorts of pranks on the unsuspecting ruler. He’s the guy who would have glued Stern’s coffee cup to the desk. He’s the guy who would have arrived to class early and set the clock 10 minutes forward. He’s the guy who would have thrown the desk out the window when no one was looking. He’s the guy who would have had to write 100 times on the chalkboard, “I will not interrupt Mr. Stern when he is speaking.”
He also would have been the smartest student in class, a fact no doubt irritating to the teacher. Brilliance and mischief may play well to the audience, but when you’re in charge, your sense of humor may be limited.
It was the iconoclast and unpredictability in Pop that had San Antonians giggling in front of their TV screens Thursday when the Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights.
What would Pop do?
The Spurs had a seven-game winning streak. The last time they were in a similar situation – they had a five-game winning streak before a game in Miami, which was their fourth in five nights – Pop had sent four players back to San Antonio to rest for an important division game against Memphis.
That the Miami game was on TNT meant little to Pop, but it meant much to the stern boss of the NBA, who boiled over and fined the Spurs $250,000 because they didn’t play the players Stern thought they should play.
That was in late November. In early January, the Spurs were in an almost identical situation. And Popovich had said several days before the game that if he thought it was in the best interest of the team, he would do the same thing again. He would rest his stars.
The kicker was that the Spurs were in New York to play the Knicks. Madison Square Garden is on Seventh Ave. between 31st and 33rd. The NBA office is on Fifth Ave. between 51st and 52nd. If Popovich announced before the game that he had sent the players home, Stern could walk the mile and a half and fine Pop in person.
As tempting as it had to be, Popovich didn’t take the bait. Perhaps he had the spitball ready to fire, but he never did. All of the major players played, although when I looked at the box score the next day, I’m the one who was giggling.
Kawhi Leonard was the only Spur to play at least 30 minutes.