CAVS: Rival coaches on court; friends afterward


Mike Brown and Gregg Popovich will be adversaries on the court starting tonight when the Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs open the NBA Finals.

The relationship the two head coaches have off the court will never suffer because of this series.

Brown developed a strong bond with Popovich during his three seasons as an assistant with the Spurs. The two have stayed close. So have their families.

Many phone calls have been made between Brown and Popovich. Brown often has leaned on Popovich for advice. When the Cavs won the Eastern Conference title, Popovich called to congratulate his finals opponent.

Popovich is someone Brown will always look up to.

“The thing I liked most about being here was just watching Pop and his people skills,” Brown said. “Everybody talks about Pop being a great coach; he’s got a good defensive team and a good offensive team. Beyond that, his people skills are off the charts.

“Watching him interact with a guy like Tim Duncan, watching him interact with the sixth man, watching him interact with the 15th man who’s on the injured list — not a lot of coaches in this business take the time he does to make everybody feel like they’re needed and they’re special.”

Brown said Popovich is a family man who gets families involved with Spurs functions. He is the first coach Brown was with to allow families to fly on the team charter.

Brown also feels that Popovich understands the balance between real life and basketball.

“This is not life and death,” Brown said. “He put in my head, ‘Look at what the guys are doing in Iraq. Look at what the guys did in World War II, Vietnam.’ That’s real life stuff.

“There are a lot of life things I learned from him that really make this thing a special time for me in terms of looking up to Gregg Popovich as a coach and a man.”

Popovich thought Brown added a lot to the Spurs when he was on his staff. He said Brown worked hard, had great ideas and a wonderful personality.

“When it was time for him to move on, we lost a good one, and we knew that,” Popovich said. “But he’ll always be a favorite of ours and of mine.”

Popovich said Brown felt a great responsibility when he was hired as the Cavs head coach. The team had LeBron James, but it still was experiencing a long playoff drought.

It took Brown just two seasons to help lead the Cavs to the brink of a championship.

“He wanted to do the best job he could to create an environment where

LeBron could be successful and where the city could be proud of the team,” Popovich said. “That’s really the basis from which he started. He just felt that responsibility and wanted to do everything he could to make it happen.”

Brown and Popovich will go their separate ways for the next few weeks. When the finals end, the loser will congratulate the winner and feel great for him.

Even though he is close to Popovich and the Spurs, Brown has a strong sense of purpose for the Cavs.

“I don’t care who I’m going against,” Brown said. “I want to win for the guys in that locker room, the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. I don’t care who it is. It doesn’t make it tough at all.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Mike Popovich at (330) 580-8341 or e-mail: