Manu and Pop: a rocky start, hoping for a great finish Print
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Sunday, 10 June 2007 14:34
NBA Headline News

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By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Gregg Popovich is the no-nonsense coach from the Air Force Academy with a belief in discipline and an appreciation for ``playing the right way'' built while working under Larry Brown.
Manu Ginobili is the player from Argentina with the flair for the dramatic, not afraid to make the crazy play even if the routine one would have worked just fine.
Not surprisingly, it took them some time to figure out how to coexist.
``Pop already had gray hair, but I'm sure if he was a blond-haired guy or a dark-haired guy he would have gone gray quicker,'' said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, who was an assistant to Popovich when Ginobili arrived in San Antonio.
``Manu just goes out there and plays. He's very passionate and very spirited about the game. He's a guy you don't want to put too many restraints or restrictions on, because it may look crazy out on the floor, but at the end of the day it's going to result in wins.''
Ginobili had played four seasons in Europe, the last two as the Italian League MVP, before coming to the Spurs in 2002. He made an immediate impact on a team that won its second NBA championship, but he did some of it in ways that probably made Popovich cringe.
``I saw him do all types of crazy things,'' Brown said. ``You know, he'd come down and fake a behind-the-back pass and make a zip pass to the side, and nine times out of 10 it's going to work, but every once in a while when it doesn't work it drives the coaches crazy.''
Still, Popovich knew that Ginobili was too good with his style to bother changing it. Instead, Popovich came to embrace it. He moved Ginobili from the starting lineup to the bench during this season because he felt the Spurs needed more energy from their reserves.
And who provides more energy than Ginobili?
``When I first got him, I just had to learn that I had to let go of the reins a bit,'' Popovich said. ``Because he was special in a lot of ways, and holding him back really took away from his effectiveness, and it took me a little while to learn that. He is who he is.''
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TONY'S OTHER HALF: Tony Parker may be San Antonio's star point guard, but his coach thinks his famous fiancee might outrank him.
``I think it's a toss-up, probably a toss-up,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said when asked whether Parker or actress Eva Longoria is more famous.
Longoria attends many of Parker's games, sitting several rows back from the court. But she commands plenty of attention aside from her romance with Parker and pending nuptials. Longoria is a star of the popular television show ``Desperate Housewives,'' which airs on ABC. It's the same network showing the NBA finals, which Parker's San Antonio Spurs are three games away from winning.
Longoria, 32, attended Game 1, donning a short yellow dress and high heels. Parker is seven years her junior.
``He's the most mature young guy I've ever been around in my life,'' Popovich said. ``I can remember when he first came after about a week or two, he came in and he told me he bought a house, and I was like, 'What about a bank? What about a mortgage? What about this?' He goes, 'I already did that, Pop. I'm from Europe.'''
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TONY ON TAPE: A big fan of ``The Sopranos,'' LeBron James planned to tape the final episode of the hit series, which aired Sunday night on HBO.
On Saturday, James gave a lengthy response to a question about the story of Tony, Carmela, A.J. and Meadow, New Jersey's most famous fictional mob family.
James said he watched two replays of Game 1, looking to find ways of beating San Antonio's defense. Before Game 2, he indicated the next video he watched won't be of Tim Duncan and the Spurs.
``I'm going to watch `The Sopranos,' he said. ``Definitely.''
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RUSSELL ON RED: As good as Red Auerbach was as a coach, it wasn't even his best skill.
According to Bill Russell, his former coach was one mean card player.
``We'd play a game someplace and I'd see Red and he'd see me and say, 'Do you want to play gin tonight?' And we would stay up to three or four o'clock in the morning playing gin,'' Russell said. ``I always lost. He was probably a better gin player than he was a coach and that is saying something.''
That is one of the memories Russell shares of Auerbach in ``Red and Me,'' airing Tuesday night on NBA TV.
Russell hasn't spoken to the media about Auerbach since the former Boston Celtics coach and general manager died last October. Russell details a close relationship between player and coach during the show, which includes some rarely seen photos and videos along with Russell's first-person accounts.
``We live and die, but while we are here there are things that we accomplish and to me the greatest thing that you can accomplish is friendship,'' Russell said. ``For me, personally, our friendship will last through eternity.''
Russell also discusses some of Auerbach's coaching theories, including why he never told his players what time they had to go to bed.
``Red used to never have a curfew,'' Russell said. ``I asked him why he never had a curfew. He said, 'Because I have to be there to enforce it.'''
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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers and Associated Press Writer Elizabeth White contributed to this report.
 

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