Lighter sides of Brown, Popovich emerge

Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — To keep the mood light Saturday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich showed a clip from the 1979 Maine high school basketball championship game starring assistant coach Brett Brown in all his short shorts glory.

His intent was to keep his players' minds off the debacle of their last game, a 31-point loss to the Detroit Pistons in Game 4 that evened the NBA Finals at two games apiece. One player described Popovich as ''giddy'' as he showed the film of South Portland defeating Presque Isle to complete a 29-0 season.

''Giddy means a lot of different things to different people,'' Popovich said. ''A bonus check makes one giddy. A glass of fine wine bought cheaply makes me giddy. I'm trying to think what would make one giddy on the court, and the only thing that would make my giddy get up would be a win. There's no giddy in a loss.''

Giddiness is not often associated with the no-nonsense former military man, but a softer, sillier side of the temperamental coach has emerged in the finals as Popovich has competed against his good friend, Detroit coach Larry Brown.

Popovich's mood was cheerful Saturday, all of the shock and despair from Game 4 having worn off, as the teams went through their second straight off day.

The series resumes Sunday night.

''How was The Lark?'' Brown shouted to Popovich as they crossed paths in the hallway outside the Spurs' locker room.

''It was exactly what you said,'' replied Popovich, who had been forewarned that the restaurant, a favorite of Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter, tends to attract an older clientele.

''I went with my wife, and I was the youngest person besides her by 20 years,'' Brown said with a chuckle.

In a series of laughers, with every game decided by double-digit margins, the coaches have brought plenty of comic relief to a series that often feels more like a friendly chess match than the usual tension-filled battle of wits that typically plays out at this point in the postseason.

Sunday night's game could very well be the last at The Palace for Brown, whose plans remain uncertain. It comes on the seven-month anniversary of the infamous brawl between the Pistons and Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands and became the defining moment of Detroit's season — until now.

The series will shift back to San Antonio for Game 6 on Tuesday and Game 7, if necessary, on Thursday.

After finishing interviews Saturday, an NBA official handed Brown a folder with several 8-by-10 color pictures of him and Popovich in different poses with the league's gold championship trophy.

''How great is that?'' Brown asked as he thumbed through the pictures. ''This is so nice.''

It was another moment of warmth from the 64-year-old Brown, whose sentimentality has been almost as pronounced over the past two weeks as Popovich's sense of humor.

When he wasn't debating the definition of ''giddy,'' Popovich's back-and-forth banter from the interview podium included references to Watergate scandal figure G. Gordon Liddy and former president Richard Nixon. Brown was more touchy-feely — though he did toss in a one-liner about his mood after Detroit's losses in Games 1 and 2.

''I felt like I felt coming back from Athens,'' Brown said.

Both coaches will have their game faces back on for Game 5, the stakes high as each team tries to take control of the series and move one victory away from the title.

San Antonio is attempting to win the championship for the third time in seven years, while the Pistons are looking to legitimize their legacy after defeating the fractured Los Angeles Lakers last season in a victory many considered a fluke.

The familiarity between the coaches has not had an effect on the first four games, the lopsided final scores erasing any chance of Brown and Popovich trying to guess what the other might be thinking or planning for a late possession in a tight game.

Brown and Popovich have continued to call each other and share stories, with strategy and tactics the only subject temporarily off-limits.

''The other night I wanted to go to dinner, but he had to go with his owner. But before he went, he came down with me and my wife and picked up the tab. Then last night we were going to go out together, but he needed to be with his team. So I went to see Batman with my son and his friends,'' Brown said.

''We're friends, our families are close. I'm interested in Micky and Jill and his wife, Erin, and he's close to my kids and (wife) Shelley. But the last couple of days have been hard for me, because that wasn't a fun game for me toward the end,'' Brown said of Detroit's 102-71 victory Thursday night. ''I looked down there, and somebody I know how competitive he is, and how special he is as a coach, that wasn't indicative of what he's done and what his team is about.''

Brown told a similar story Friday, and when Popovich heard about it he admonished a reporter for not recognizing it as a bunch of baloney.

But there was some sincerity in what Brown was saying, and that candidness, mixed with humor, has made these NBA Finals unlike any in recent years.



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