San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t just a master on all things basketball; when he isn’t speaking out against the Muslim ban or voicing his unwavering support for the Women’s March, the coach—who has led the Spurs to five NBA championships—is one of the most well-read people in the NBA.
Every off-season, Popovich puts together a substantial list of books he intends to read during his downtime. Though this isn’t a rare practice for NBA coaches, Popovich is an outlier: At one point during his time in the Air Force Academy, he considered a career in the CIA, and he raves about visiting Powell’s Books and the Strand Book Store whenever he is in Portland or New York City, respectively. According to Popovich, “I usually have a group of books that I read at the same time because I never sit long with one and I’ve got something to do and get back to it.”
We don’t have access to Popovich’s reading list from this past summer, but based on previous syllabi, we are sure it was just as diverse. Previous books on his reading list have included:
- God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens
- What’s So Great About Christianity?, by Dinesh D’Souza
- The Fruit of the Tree, by Edith Wharton
- My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
- Unknown titles on Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin
- Books by David Foster Wallace
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Ulysses, by James Joyce, a novel Popovich has tried to read previously but “…I’m not man enough for it. Too difficult to understand, too many big words, concepts that are way over my head, but I’ve always told myself I have to tackle this. I do about every three years try to read it. I’ve never had success yet.”
This fascination with the written word isn’t something new to Popovich. As a fledging coach in the early 1980s at Pomona-Pitzer, a DIII that is part of California’s Claremont Colleges consortium, he often looked for basketball genius while at the same time cultivating academic talent. As Jordan Ritter Conn detailed for Grantland in 2015:
Popovich understood this balance, players say. He excused them to study or to write papers, to attend meetings and interviews. When they left for a semester abroad, he welcomed them back upon their return, sometimes plugging them straight into the rotation in the middle of the season. Popovich attended lectures and chaired committees and debated politics and philosophy with professors over wine, often plucked from the eight-bottle rack he kept in the dorm apartment he shared with his wife and kids. “He was an intellectual sparring partner,” says Steven Koblik, a Pomona history professor who moonlighted as an academic adviser to the team.