I love ESPN's show First Take. Watching Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate and sometimes holler at each other about sports and other stuff is one of the best parts of my mornings. In addition to being consistently entertaining and insightful they are also hilarious. And it would be a crime not to mention the show's moderator, the lovely Cari Champion, who makes the hard job of keeping Skip and Stephen A. on topic look easy.
But despite how much I love the show, I must admit that I have a nagging bone to pick with Mr. Bayless and Mr. Smith.
Longtime viewers of the show will know that while the rest of the universe has almost uniformly labeled San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich the best coach in the National Basketball League, Skip and Stephen A. have defiantly declared Doc Rivers to be the best. However, since the Spurs systematic dismantling of Lebron James and the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, it appears Skip and Stephen A. may be covertly trying to change their tune about who's the top coach in the league.
I was shocked last week when Skip and Stephen A. decided to discuss whether Popovich was the greatest coach in NBA history in reaction to NBA legend Jerry West saying that "Popovich is the best coach [he's] ever seen." This took me by total surprise. I thought to myself, "Surely Skip and Stephen A. aren't trying to pull the oki dok on us and change their opinion on the sly." After spending multiple years extolling Doc Rivers as the best coach in the league, now suddenly they want to engage in a serious conversation about whether Popovich is the best ever. Seriously gentlemen, did you think we wouldn't notice?
Well, we did notice and I think some explanation is due.
In fairness, neither Skip nor Stephen A. agreed with Jerry West's view that Pop was the best ever. However, they did agree that he was among the top five greatest ever, and they went on to say that probably only Larry Brown, Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson were in front of him. Which leaves me asking the question, so what happened to Doc Rivers? I thought he was supposed to be a better coach than Popovich?
I think the answer to the mystery is obvious. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith were very wrong about this and their integrity as high-profile, respected sports journalists should compel them to say so.
The fact is ever since the venerable zen master Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Skip and Stephen A. have touted to the high heavens that Doc Rivers is the NBA's best coach. And it has blown my mind that two men who in part make a living disagreeing with one another have consistently been able to agree on something that is so incorrect.
Now, don't get me wrong, I think Doc Rivers is a great basketball coach. I was living in Orlando when he took over a less than stellar 1999-2000 Magic team that had just traded four of its five previous season starters; and what he accomplished with that team was a minor miracle that rightfully earned him Coach of the Year honors. Then several years later I watched with admiration as Doc used the "Ubuntu" philosophy of South Africa to help inspire his 2008 Boston Celtics team to win an NBA championship. And this past season we all watched as he masterfully navigated the organizational turmoil surrounding infamous Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Without question, Doc Rivers is a bona fide "leader of men" as Stephen A. Smith would say. But the fact is even though Doc is really good; he's just not the best. That's a distinction reserved for the NBA's longest tenured head coach Gregg Popovich.
As the saying goes, "the numbers don't lie." And when it comes to the numbers, Gregg Popovich is a legend. Since Coach Pop took control of the Spurs in 1996 he has put together one of the most impressive coaching careers the NBA has ever seen. He's led his Spurs to five NBA championships -- and only two coaches in NBA history have won more. He's ranked third in league history in most postseason wins. He has a nearly a 70 percent overall winning percentage. He is also one of only three coaches to win the NBA Coach of the Year honors three times. And he's the only coach to go 15 straight seasons winning 50 games or more.
I say again, the numbers don't lie.
The numbers are so definitive that one could make a case that Coach Pop is not the only the best coach in professional basketball, but he's also one of the greatest coaches in the history of team sports. In fact, when Sports News magazine published a ranking of the 50 greatest coaches in the history of sports, based on the opinions of 118 Hall of Famers, championship coaches, and other experts, they ranked Coach Pop 49th on their list. Not bad for a guy that Stephen A. and Skip thought until recently was not even the best coach in today's NBA.
For all these reasons it boggles the mind why Skip and Stephen A. have been so wrong about this. I can only surmise that they like many others in the media they fell victim to Doc's intoxicating charm. Everybody knows he's a media darling and the favorite coach of many NBA players.
Whatever the case, Skip and Stephen A. seem to have now changed their minds about who's the best coach and I'm glad about it. But I really wish they would just admit it. Does not journalistic integrity require it? To Stephen A.'s credit, after game four of this year's NBA finals, he did state that "we can say that Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA." I guess this was his way of saying he and Skip were wrong. But after three years of adamantly denying Pop's clear status as the best coach, we need more than a mere acknowledgment from Stephen A. and Skip Bayless, we need a retraction. It's just the right thing to do.