Lips of a Popovich

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards

 

Gregg Popovich was flustered. He was rushing through halftime adjustments inside the visitor’s locker room in Chesapeake Energy Arena much quicker than usual. His penmanship was sloppy and his mind was ahead of his voice. He tripped over his words.

He was trying to explain how they want to play it in the second half when the Thunder switch on ball screens and wind up with Durant guarding Timmy in the post, but he couldn’t concentrate.

Duncan knew his coach well. He could tell something was wrong.

“You good, Pop?”

Pop stopped writing. He put the cap on the marker, hung his head, and turned to the room. Rubbing his face, he raised his head and blew out a breath.

“No,” he answered, “Hinder’s playing out there right now, fellas.”

Pop was not quiet about the bands he loved. The team knew how much he adored the Oklahoma City based rockers. He’d once made them listen to All American Nightmare in its entirety two times through on a plane ride from San Antonio to Orlando. It was understood among everyone within the Spurs organization after that: You don’t question Pop’s love of Hinder.

“You seen them last year, Pop” said Gary Neal, “Why you gotta see them now?”

Popovich threw his dry erase marker at Neal. The pen whipped through the air, past Danny Green toweling down his face, past Kawhi Leonard re-tying his Nikes, and past Tiago Splitter blowing his nose into Paddy Mills’ warm up. Straight and true it flew until it hit Neal in the chest. The pen fell to the ground with a click and Popovich began to roll up the sleeves of his purple, gingham shirt. He pointed at Neal as he spoke.

“You know I hated that concert. All they played was trash from Welcome To The Freakshow and I hated that album. They’re supposed to be playing classics from Extreme Behavior. I loved Extreme Behavior.”

When he was done his eyes were wet and his face was red and all in the room were still. They saw how much it meant to him.

“Go, Pop,” said Duncan, “You’re good. Coach Bud can help us with the adjustments. Enjoy the show.”

Popovich held his hands out in front of himself as if he was praying.

“Thank you, Timmy.”

And with that he left the locker room. He sprinted down the tunnel, dodging Reggie Miller chatting up one of the Thunder Girls when he turned the corner. As he neared the court, he heard the faint beginnings of his song. The lights faded in and out and the crowd buzzed indifference, but he was there. And he was into it.

He got to the court and heard Austin Winkler’s voice and his eyes shut and he let the words wash him clean.

Honey why you callin me so late?
It’s kinda hard to talk right now.
Honey why you cryin?
Is everything okay?
Gotta whisper cuz I can’t speak to loud.

Popovich whispered to as he strained his head toward the sky.

“Thank you.”

One tear escaped his eye. He did not reach to wipe it. It fell on the vibrating hardwood and rippled with the words.

And I never wanna say goodbye.

He didn’t either.

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Across the court he saw William H. Macy. Macy, wearing a green, yellow, blue, white, and black striped shirt, black jeans, and a charcoal grey scarf, made eye contact with Popovich. It was a knowing stare they shared. Both wholly into the music. Not worried about anything other than the notes and their involvement with them. Still primed with one of the more potent mustaches of his generation, Popovich saw in Macy an equal.

This sight and feeling confirmed in Popovich something he’d known all along: Hinder brings people together.

The band kept with their psalms disguised as songs.

Popovich swayed as Winkler crooned, alive.

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