AFA's Popovich, SDSU's Leonard Lead Spurs to NBA Title
Courtesy Air Force and San Diego State Sports Information
Photo courtesy NBAE/Getty Images
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Former Air Force player and assistant coach Gregg Popovich won his fifth NBA championship as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night in San Antonio, Texas. The Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 104-87 to win the 2014 NBA Finals four games to one.
Popovich, the longest-tenured coach with the same team among the 122 NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB franchises, is one of five coaches in history with at least five NBA Championships (along with Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, John Kundla and Pat Riley).
A 1970 graduate of the Academy, Popovich led the Falcons in scoring as a senior with a 14.3 average and served as team captain while helping the team to a 12-12 record. He graduated with a degree in Soviet studies, followed by a five-year military commitment in the United States Air Force.
In 1973, he made his first foray into coaching, spending six years as an assistant at the Academy, then spent eight seasons as the head coach of Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. He joined Larry Brown’s staff as an assistant for the Spurs in 1988.
After a two-year stint coaching with Don Nelson at Golden State, Popovich returned to the Spurs as general manager in 1994. He added head coaching to his long list of responsibilities on Dec. 10, 1996, when he replaced Bob Hill on the Spurs’ sideline.
A three-time NBA Coach of the Year, Popovich also led the Spurs to the NBA championship in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Former San Diego State men's basketball standout Kawhi Leonard was a driving force for the Spurs en route to the title, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in Sunday’s series-clinching victory. The third-year forward averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in the series. For his efforts, Leonard earned the 2014 Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award, becoming the youngest Finals MVP since Spurs teammate Tim Duncan won it in 1999.
Leonard, the first MVP who wasn't an All-Star that same season since the Detroit Pistons' Chauncey Billups in 2004, also shot 58 percent from three-point range in the Finals and drew the defensive assignment of defending former league MVP LeBron James for the majority of the five games.
A 2011 Associated Press Second-Team All-American at SDSU, Leonard was the only player on either Finals roster from a Mountain West institution.
The 22-year-old was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team for the first time in his career on June 2, and became the seventh player in San Antonio franchise history to be voted to the team. Leonard’s 1.73 steals per games ranked 10th in the league during the 2013-14 regular season, as he also averaged a career-best 6.2 rebounds along with 0.76 blocks.