It’s common knowledge that teamwork makes the dream work, but when that dream involves sprinting past 29 other NBA teams on the road to championship glory, sometimes you need a little extra elbow grease. For legendary NBA coach Gregg Popovich (or “Pop”, commonly), who just last week achieved the most wins of any coach in NBA history, team unity is something that doesn’t just appear from the ether. It’s something to be earned, with as much work coming from the coach’s side as the players’.
It’s also, as a new ESPN story suggests, incredibly expensive. Or at least, it’s expensive the way Popovich goes about it. A profile of the coach’s renowned (and private) team dinners, it paints a portrait of a coach as discerning about his recreational pleasures as he is his job, a man who uses his renowned scouting and group management acumen to find the best wines and restaurants in every town in the service of sharing them with his staff and talent, no matter the price. It’s all part of building a unified front.
This morning, The Takeout had a chance to speak with the author, ESPN senior writer Baxter Holmes, who has taken on the NBA-food beat. He’s written two of our favorite stories: the NBA’s deep love of fine wine, and its obsession with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a story that won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Award in journalism. For the Spurs story, Holmes further elaborated on the methodology behind Popovich’s secretive dinners:
“His meticulous approach that we see so often in basketball, when it comes to scouting and basically everything about the way the Spurs do business, you see that when it comes to these dinners. They’re him reading numerous publications and doing an extensive amount of research on every single restaurant that he’s going to go to [before] showing up,” Holmes told The Takeout. “Researching the menu, the wine list, showing up with wines that you believe will pair with some of the certain dishes that they’re going to be having. And orchestrating the entire experience. I mean, they don’t just show up and sit down and eat. He goes in-depth to make sure that it’s a really special experience, and he does this constantly and he loves it.”
Holmes also shared a tidbit about Popovich’s dining habits that didn’t make the final story:
“[There are] these things called junior varsity dinners, where he might go out to a restaurant in the city and maybe it’s just by himself, maybe it’s with one staffer, and they will go to a restaurant that he’s been wanting to check out, [that] he’s read about,” Holmes said. “He’ll go there, have like a dish and maybe a glass of wine, and then he may go to another restaurant. And maybe it’s him, just by himself or with another staffer, and he’ll do the same thing. And he might do this a few times before ultimately sitting down for the varsity meal with his staff.“
Like the more knowledgeable residents of the Shire, Pop understands that there are many, many other meals between actual meals in a given day. As of this writing, the Pop-led Spurs are up 2-1 on the Denver Nuggets in their first-round playoff series, and will no doubt dine well, win or lose.
Oh, one last thing, Baxter. In your research, what’s the most you’ve ever heard Pop spend on a good bottle of wine?
“There was a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, and it’s a legendary sweet white wine that he loves. That a lot of people love,” Holmes said. “And he bought a bottle of the 1945 vintage, I was told at The French Laundry, I believe in September 2016, for close to $15,000.“