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Monday, November 18, 2019

How a wine dinner helped the Spurs land Manu Ginobili

Gregg Popovich

Gregg Popovich is a five-time NBA champion and one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, but his passion for the sport is rivaled by his love for wining and dining. While Popovich’s incredible basketball IQ and leadership qualities have allowed him to draft, sign and develop some great players over the years, it was his affinity for wine and a good dinner that helped him land Manu Ginobili.

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes published a fantastic feature this week that examines Popovich’s borderline obsession with wine and fine dining. Several players explained to Holmes how Popovich uses the culinary world to bring his teams closer together, and the three-time NBA Coach of the Year said his passion for hosting a good gathering led him to Ginobili many years ago.

Steve McHugh, the owner and chef at upscale restaurant Cured in San Antonio, once asked Popovich why he was going through so much trouble to select what he felt were the perfect appetizers and wines for a dinner he hosted with Spanish basketball officials back in 2015. Popovich said most NBA teams will pass off such obligations to assistant coaches or front office executives, but he explained how hosting a contingent from Argentina in similar fashion years prior landed him one of the most important players in Spurs franchise history.

“I blew ’em away, and we wined ’em, we dined ’em. We gave them photo ops. We gave ’em everything they wanted,” Popovich recalled. “That’s how we found out about Manu, when nobody else knew about him.”

Popovich has been known to do the same for his players, even after brutal losses.

“I was friends with every single teammate I ever had in my [time] with the Spurs. That might sound far-fetched, but it’s true,” one former Spurs player told Holmes. “And those team meals were one of the biggest reasons why. To take the time to slow down and truly dine with someone in this day and age — I’m talking a two- or three-hour dinner — you naturally connect on a different level than just on the court or in the locker room.”

While many of us only know the Pop who treats sideline reporters like he’d rather be getting a root canal than chatting with them for 30 seconds, his players and confidants know the other side to him. In many ways, Popovich’s passion for wine sounds like it has helped his career as much as his dedication to the game of basketball.

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