Clippers' Doc Rivers and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich are quite a pair

Clippers' Doc Rivers and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich are quite a pair
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, left, and San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich may have contrasting coaching styles, but in some ways, they are two of a kind. (Jason Szenes / EPA; Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They encompass one syllable, three letters and immeasurable intrigue.

Doc. Pop.


What other coaches are so instantly recognizable these days? In any sport?

The Clippers' Doc Rivers and the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich have become one-name entities not just because they've won NBA titles, but because they are such fascinating figures who have become their own brands.

Popovich is the wine-loving, classic literature-reading savant who likes to infuse terror in the media and terroir in his dinner conversations.

Rivers is the devoted family man and skilled orator who could probably talk anybody into just about anything.

Their contrasting styles were on display before, during and after the Clippers defeated the Spurs, 115-92, on Monday night at Staples Center.

Arriving about 80 minutes before tip-off because a team bus was running late, Popovich noticed a group of students standing across the hallway from the Spurs' locker room. Informed they were aspiring journalists from Long Beach State, Popovich quipped, "Keep them away from me or they'll want to change their majors."

It was a classic retort from a coach who can be gruff and seems to delight in making others — mainly the media — squirm. Consider his response to a harmless question about why the Spurs were running late: "Ah, the sunset was great over in Santa Monica," Popovich said, "so we stayed a little bit longer to watch the sunset."

Meanwhile, Rivers exchanged pleasantries with reporters and patted one on the shoulder as he entered a room for his pregame news conference. He was warm, engaging and made you feel as if he wanted to invite everyone over to his home for a Sunday barbecue. It should come as no surprise that he once played in a flag football league with reporters who covered his team when he coached the Orlando Magic.

Their different demeanors carried over to the game.

Popovich mostly stayed seated on the bench. When he rose, he often stood expressionless, with arms folded in front of his chest or his hands in his pocket.

Rivers couldn't seem to stay in one place for more than a moment, clapping furiously after a Darren Collison steal and layup. He later wildly gestured for his players to get back on defense after Chris Paul drove to the basket for a layup.

The coaches communicate in their own ways, challenging their players when necessary but also keeping things light whenever possible.

"With both of us, I think sense of humor is huge," Popovich said before the game. "I think we both enjoy screwing with the guys, basically, for lack of a better phrase. Just sticking it to them, giving them some static, giving it back to us. People who can laugh at themselves and have a good time during the season are fun to be around and we both enjoy players who can do that."

Popovich and Rivers have enjoyed their share of last laughs.


They have accumulated five of the eight titles won by active NBA coaches, with four belonging to Popovich. His first came in 1999 when Rivers was one of the Spurs' broadcasters.

"Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich," Rivers said, ticking off his list of the best coaches in league history. "Pop is the best there has ever been at making you buy into their system. He changes his system, but you're going to buy into it or you're not going to play."

Popovich shook up his lineup after a sluggish second quarter in which his team was outscored, 34-21, benching starter Danny Green to start the second half.

He then called a timeout after the Clippers' first possession of the third quarter. Somewhere, sideline reporter Craig Sager was thankful this game was not being televised by TNT, sparing him the indignity of another testy exchange with Popovich.

Rivers never quit pacing the sideline or working the officials, even with his team ahead by 20 points in the final minutes and Spurs point guard Tony Parker having long since departed because of a bruised shin.

When it was over, the coaches shared a hearty laugh and a few warm pats.

"He's the king," Rivers would say later.

Between Popovich and Rivers, it's more like two of a kind.

Twitter: @latbbolch