SAN ANTONIO – If you are a die-hard Spurs fan, then you’ll recall the team that led San Antonio to its first-ever championship in 1999.
There was Avery Johnson, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr, Antonio Daniels and even fan-favorite Malik Rose.
While many will remember the moments during the course of the Spurs’ championship run -- such as the Memorial Day Miracle -- many will forget head coach Gregg Popovich was on the hot seat and on the verge of being fired after going 6-8 to start the season.
In the second episode of the NBA TV’s “What If” series, the network asked the question: What if Gregg Popovich was fired in 1999?
“I was on that Spurs team. We were 6-8 (and) I think the (Utah) Jazz blew us out. We looked awful,” Kerr said in the episode. “We got (Tim) Duncan and (David) Robinson and we were one of the favorites to get to the finals. Doc Rivers is doing our TV games and there are rumors that Doc is going to take over for Pop.”
During that time, KSAT-12 aired Spurs games and sports director Greg Simmons was the play-by-play announcer alongside Rivers.
“One of the guys I worked with a lot was Doc Rivers and all of sudden, there was a lot of tension now. 'Is Pop the guy, and should somebody else step in?'” Simmons said.
With the Spurs losing to the Jazz at home 101-87, giving them a 6-8 record, Popovich’s job security was heating up as they next traveled to Houston to face the stacked Rockets.
When they got to Houston, Johnson called for a team meeting, and that action may have saved Popovich’s career.
“Pop rescued my career when I was playing with the Golden State Warriors when he was an assistant coach under Don Nelson and gave me an opportunity to come to San Antonio and keep my career going,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make sure he was taken care of and let the team know how passionate I was about helping save his career.”
The Spurs destroyed the Rockets 99-82, and for the players, that win was the turning point not only for Popovich but also for the team.
Popovich and the Spurs ended the shortened regular season with a 37-13 record and a 15-2 postseason run, ultimately leading San Antonio to win the organization’s first-ever NBA championship over the New York Knicks.
“One of the things you think about is: If Pop was fired, does Tim come back? If Tim doesn’t come back, are the Spurs still in San Antonio or do the Spurs move elsewhere?” Daniels said.
“Everything changes. Look at how many disciples of Pop are out there. Look at how many head coaches have been in his system,” Simmons said. “And that moment right then and there, if Pop had been removed as head coach, don’t think we’re celebrating five championships in this city.”