First, the disclaimers.
Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are good friends and have been for decades. The face of the Spurs coached against Kerr’s Bulls teams in the mid-’90s. Then the sharpshooting Kerr played under Pop in two stints in San Antonio, from 1998 to 2000 and 2002 to 2003. They’ve developed into coaching rivals, with Kerr at the helm of the Warriors dynasty.
“It’s awkward because I hate to see him ever lose,” Popovich told the Mercury News last year. “And if we would win, which was rare, you’d still feel a bit badly for him. And I’m sure he felt vice versa.”
So there is every reason for the two to dine together. And yet the two getting a meal on the eve of Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors clinching a matchup with Kerr’s Warriors does intrigue.
A Twitter user happened to see the pair of NBA coaching stars out to dinner Friday night, when Toronto held a 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee. The following night, the Raptors would, for the first time in their history, move on to the Finals, where Kerr will hope to shut down Leonard.
If anyone knows Leonard’s game, it’s Popovich, who had coached him since 2011 before the superstar small forward forced his way off the Spurs, resulting in a trade with Toronto that has immediately paid off for the Raptors. The Spurs, meanwhile, were knocked out in seven games by Denver in the first round.
This has been the playoffs of Kawhi. He’s averaged 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, which doesn’t begin to tell the story of how he’s put the Raptors on his back right before his free agency.
He hit the Game 7 game-winner against Philadelphia to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, where he made Giannis Antetokounmpo look human and not Freakish for the first time this season.
Kerr could use some tips. Perhaps Pop had some.