In addition to being regarded as perhaps the greatest basketball mind on the planet — amateur or professional — United States Air Force veteran and former officer Gregg Popovich is known as being, well, stodgy. Grumpy. But also deeply insightful, and even funny when he wants to be — as evidenced by his academy yearbook photo and its adjacent quote:
Here’s what it says (just in case the text is too small to read):
He came to these nondescript hills from Merrillville, Indiana with his ways and his ball. Ball has continued to capture Popo’s time during his visit at the Academy. What he did while here may have been bad and it may have been good, but he learned it did not matter much either way. He has, however, learned much about life during his revealing stay, and some profess that it was due not totally to fine associations and tutelage. His future plans include happiness.
And, every once in a while throughout the years he’s even opened up about his experience in the military. Those rare stories, too, have usually come equipped with a punchline, like the anecdote he imparted to a Turkish newspaper in 2001 about his first visit to the country, after being reassigned in 1973 to an airbase near the Syrian border called “Diyarbakir.”
He said as soon as he got off the military transport a guy ran up to him and embraced him with a giant bear hug — held him tight as could be. Strangely, he had never met the man before.
“I didn’t understand what was happening. I then learned it was the lieutenant I was replacing.”
He then followed up with an affecting summation of his time at the installation, its surrounding region, and those that called it home.
“I got to know the world’s most good-intentioned and hospitable people during that year I stayed in Diyarbakir.”
Recently, the old airman and current head coach of the San Antonio Spurs took some time after a game and answered a reporter’s question in such a poignant and powerful way, his words have been uploaded all over the internet, and shared as a message and a reminder.
The question was the following: Coach, what does Black History Month mean to you?
His answer (an audio link follows):
“Well, it’s a remembrance, and a bit of a celebration in some ways. It sounds odd because we’re not there yet, but it’s always important to remember what has passed and what is being experienced now by the black population. It’s a celebration of some of the good things that have happened, and a reminder that there’s a lot more work to do. But more than anything, I think if people take the time to think about it, I think it is our national sin. It always intrigues me when people come out with, ‘I’m tired of talking about that or do we have to talk about race again?’ And the answer is you’re damned right we do. Because it’s always there, and it’s systemic in the sense that when you talk about opportunity it’s not about ‘Well, if you lace up your shoes and you work hard, then you can have the American dream.’ That’s a bunch of hogwash. If you were born white, you automatically have a monstrous advantage educationally, economically, culturally in this society and all the systemic roadblocks that exist, whether it’s in a judicial sense, a neighborhood sense with laws, zoning, education, we have huge problems in that regard that are very complicated, but take leadership, time, and real concern to try to solve. It’s a tough one because people don’t really want to face it. And it’s in our national discourse …”