San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the top coaches in the NBA.
Since stepping into his role with the Spurs in 1996, the 70-year-old has won three coach of the year awards and all five of the franchise's NBA championships. When his team defeated the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in April, Popovich broke the record for the most regular season and postseason wins of any coach in NBA history, reports Yahoo! Sports.
While much of his team's success can be, of course, credited to hard work and practice. But ESPN reports that there's something else that's helped the team come together: Popovich's love of food and wine.
Each year, the coach, who is known as a wine connoisseur, spends an estimated seven figures on team dinners at some of the best restaurants across the U.S. In addition to paying for everyone's food, Popovich drops thousands of dollars on some of the finest wines on the menu and then leaves a hefty tip for the staff that served the team.
"He's patronized the finest restaurants, spent millions of dollars, left countless four-figure tips, turned himself into a first-order oenophile," writes Baxter Holmes at ESPN. "He's forged fast friendships with the nation's premier gourmands. And all to a singular purpose. As one source close to Popovich says, 'It's a passion for him, but it's also a tool.'"
One restaurant owner who has served Popovich several times tells ESPN that the coach will often leave a $10,000 tip on a "nothing meal," order bottles of wine for the kitchen staff and "leave a thick wad of cash and ask that it be delivered directly to said staff."
"He's spent more on wine and dinners than my whole [NBA] salary," former NBA coach Don Nelson said.
But Popovich — whose reported $11 million annual salary makes him the highest-paid coach in the league — has clearly seen the payoffs from his off-the-court spending habits.
Former Spurs guard Danny Green says, "dinners help us have a better understanding of each individual person, which brings us closer to each other — and, on the court, understand each other better." Pau Gasol, a former center for the team, added, "I haven't been a part of that anywhere else. And players know the importance of it as well — and how important it is to 'Pop.'"
Spurs former assistant coach Chad Forcier recalls the time when Popovich used a team dinner to help revive his players after a tough loss in the 2013 finals against the Miami Heat. During dinner, he says Popovich showed "the most amazing display of leadership" as he went around the room talking to the players and rubbing their shoulders. He says that Popovich was "trying to just hook everybody up to life support and resuscitate everybody."
Although a much needed team dinner didn't lead the Spurs to winning that series against the Heat in 2013, ESPN notes that they did come back the following year and sweep the Heat with five game wins.
Currently, Popovich is just the fourth coach in NBA history to coach in his 70s. When asked by The New York Times if he will renew his contract, which is up at the end of this season, Popovich replied, "I don't know the answer."
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