“Not surprised,” James said. “It’s well-awarded. I have the utmost respect for Gregg Popovich, man. Not only what he’s been able to do for that team, but him just being able to always keep those guys motivated and always keep their best interests. ... From the outside looking in, it seems that he has their best interests and all he cares about is the team’s success and nothing else matters. That’s big-time.”
Behind all his press conference bluster and the orneriness he directs toward the officials, there is a softer side that endears Popovich to those around him. That much was revealed during Game 1 against the Mavericks when he was interviewed by Craig Sager Jr., who was filling in for his father, a longtime sideline reporter who is being treated for leukemia. Popovich’s curt demeanor and one-word answers to the elder Sager’s questions have become appointment viewing, but this time the coach stopped in the middle of tense game, stared right into the camera and delivered a heart-felt message.
“We miss you. You’ve been an important part of all of us for a long time, doing a great job,” he said. “We want your fanny back on the court, and I promise I’ll be nice.”
Popovich garnered 59 first-place votes and 380 total points in voting conducted by a panel of media members. Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek (37 first-place votes) finished second and Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau (12) finished third in the voting, with Charlotte’s Steve Clifford and Toronto’s Dwane Casey rounding out the top five in a season so strong that Spoelstra did not make the top 10.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski
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