Gregg Popovich will be next U.S. men’s basketball coach


Gregg Popovich, then 23 years old, tried out for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. He didn’t make it. A reporter reminded the San Antonio Spurs coach of this on Friday afternoon.

“I was screwed,” Popovich interrupted, joking but in a serious tone, before the reporter could finish his question.

In 2005, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo called Mike Krzyzewski and Popovich in his search for a coach to rejuvenate the program, after the Americans lost three games at the Athens Olympics and left with a bronze medal and a new, beatable image.

“And Pop was not overly thrilled when I called him just because of NBA burnout or maybe even international burnout,” Colangelo said in 2006, according to the Denver Post. “He’d been around on a number of occasions. He didn’t show great enthusiasm.”

So Colangelo hired Krzyzewski, who guided the U.S. to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and a 75-1 record going into the Rio Olympic year. Krzyzewski announced earlier this week, as expected, that he would step down after the Rio Olympics.

Colangelo apparently knew this as far back as this summer, because that’s when he contacted Popovich again. The two Chicagoland natives met in Carmel, Calif.

This time, Colangelo had just one candidate in mind.

“I had a short list, and it started and ended with Pop,” Colangelo said in a press conference, sitting next to Popovich. “We talked about a lot of things, the past, the future. The more important thing is where are we going, going forward. He asked me a question, he said, ‘What about you? Are you going to stay on? Are you going to continue? Because if you’re not, then I don’t have interest.'”

Apparently Colangelo, 75, will continue.

Popovich, 66, was announced as the next U.S. men’s basketball head coach on Friday. He will succeed Krzyzewski, who will stay on in an advisory role, and lead it through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Way back then, when I was in my early 20s, and we all had a dream to make an Olympic team,” said Popovich, who did make it to the Olympics in 2004, as an assistant on the ill-fated Larry Brown-coached team. “That never leaves you. You grow up, and you watch the Olympic Games on TV, and you always want to be part of something like that. … In that sense, it does have an added meaning.”

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Colangelo said all roads led to Popovich in choosing Krzyzewski’s successor. Krzyzewski played at Army and is a five-time NCAA champion at Duke. Popovich played at Air Force and is a five-time NBA champion with the Spurs.

“It’s because of who he is, his character, his leadership, he’s a winner,” Colangelo said of Popovich. “His self-sacrificing attitude in terms of being a military guy. He’s respected by everyone in the basketball world and his legacy of course, relative to his championships, is extraordinary.”

Krzyzewski, 68, will become the oldest U.S. Olympic basketball coach ever in Rio. Popovich is in line to break that mark in Tokyo and sees the next five years as a challenge, saying his top priority is to maintain the standard set by Krzyzewski.

“I’m not ready to plant tomatoes,” Popovich said.

Colangelo wanted to wrap up the Krzyzewski succession plan before both the NCAA and NBA seasons began. And anything that happened in 2005, when Colangelo called Popovich and chose Krzyzewski, was yesterday’s news.

“I didn’t sense that same enthusiasm in my conversation with Pop [in 2005],” Colangelo said in 2012, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Afterward, [Popovich] sent me a letter and said I misinterpreted what he said. He felt I had misjudged him, and maybe I did. But that was a long time ago. How can anyone argue with his record, his performance?”

Krzyzewski originally intended to leave the post after leading the U.S. to a second straight gold medal at London 2012 but came back for one more run.

“Gregg Popovich is the ideal choice to take over as head coach of the USA program,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “His long track record of success – both in terms of winning championships and creating a culture of excellence – are well documented and, rightfully so, he is considered among the very best coaches in the world.”

Popovich’s current Spurs roster includes Olympians Tim Duncan (U.S.), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Boris Diaw (France) and Patty Mills (Australia). He also coached Brazilian Olympian Tiago Splitter on the Spurs the previous five seasons.

Could Duncan, now 39, mull a run for the 2020 Olympics? Like Popovich, his only previous Olympic experience was on that 2004 team, the first U.S. group of NBA players to lose at the Olympics.

“I think Timmy’s got other plans for summertimes in his future,” Popovich said.

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Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

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The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

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Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

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Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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