It is one of the perpetually-recurring phrases you hear when people are speaking about the Spurs — they have players of high character.
What does that even mean exactly? In practice, different people define character differently, and how you apply that to a basketball (or any sports) team is an entirely unique definition.
How does Gregg Popovich define it? If there’s one thing you should read today, it should be Popovich and former Air Force man and NFL player Chad Hennings talking character in the book Forces of Character, an excerpt of that conversation has been posted over at Hoopshype.
Here are some great lines from Popovich, starting with players needing a sense of humor.
Having a sense of humor is huge to me and to our staff because I think if people can’t be self-deprecating or laugh at themselves or enjoy a funny situation, they have a hard time giving themselves to the group. You look at a guy like Tim Duncan. He never changes his expression but he can hit you with some of the best wise-ass comments in the world. I can be in a huddle, laying into him about his rebounding, saying to him, “Are you gonna get a rebound tonight or what? You haven’t done anything.” Then on the way out of the huddle, he’ll say, “Hey, Pop.” I’ll say, “Yeah.” He’ll say, “Thanks for the encouragement,” and walk back on the court. He’s being facetious, but nobody sees things like that. I think when a player has that ability and has respect it’s a good thing.
On what he looks for talking to players before the draft (or in free agency):
Being able to enjoy someone else’s success is a huge thing. If I’m interviewing a young guy and he’s saying things like, “I should have been picked All-American but they picked Johnny instead of me,” or they say stuff like, “My coach should have played me more; he didn’t really help me,” I’m not taking that kid because he will be a problem one way or another. I know he will be a problem. At some point he’ll start to think he’s not playing enough minutes, or his parents are going to wonder why he’s not playing, or his agent’s going to call too much. I don’t need that stuff. I’ve got more important things to do. I’ll find somebody else, even if they have less ability, as long as they don’t have that character trait.
How he treats his star players like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker:
Speaking to that, the other thing I’ll do in practice on a regular basis when we run drills, is I’ll purposely get on the big boys the most. Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili will catch more hell from me than anybody else out there. You know the obvious effect of that. If you do that and they respond in the right way, everyone else follows suit. The worst thing you can do is let it go when someone has been egregious in some sort of way. The young kids see that and you lose respect and the fiber of your team gets frayed a bit. I think it has to be that way. They have to be willing to set that example and take that hit so everybody else will fall in line. It’s a big thing for us and that’s how we do it.
Go read the entire story. Or, buy the book.