Gregg Popovich's coaching tree in NBA Finals and beyond

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The influence of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (middle) on the NBA is profound. From top left to right going clockwise, a look at one tree in his vast forest: Mike Brown (Sacramento head coach), Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee head coach), Monty Williams (Phoenix head coach), Steve Kerr (Golden State head coach), Ime Udoka (Boston head coach), Doc Rivers (Philadelphia head coach), Sam Presti (Oklahoma City GM), Taylor Jenkins (Memphis head coach) and Sean Marks (Brooklyn GM). Illustration by Michael Wagstaffe.    

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
The influence of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (middle) on the NBA is profound. From top left to right going clockwise, a look at one tree in his vast forest: Mike Brown (Sacramento head coach), Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee head coach), Monty Williams (Phoenix head coach), Steve Kerr (Golden State head coach), Ime Udoka (Boston head coach), Doc Rivers (Philadelphia head coach), Sam Presti (Oklahoma City GM), Taylor Jenkins (Memphis head coach) and Sean Marks (Brooklyn GM). (Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

This year’s NBA Finals is a battle of Gregg Popovich proteges, with former player Steve Kerr at the helm for the Golden State Warriors and former assistant coach, who also suited up for Popovich, Ime Udoka leading the Boston Celtics.

By month's end, a former Popovich player will win a ring as a coach. His leadership is undeniable.

Before Game 1 of the Finals, commissioner Adam Silver sounded off on Popovich’s legacy: "Thank you, Gregg Popovich. He practically runs an academy there [in San Antonio] for future coaches, and not just coaches but team executives. He's done a fantastic job."

Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team among all of major professional sports’ 122 franchises (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). He is the winningest coach in NBA history, including five championships (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014), making him one of three active coaches in the league with multiple Finals titles.

Popovich’s legacy can be gleaned from his vast and successful coaching tree. Seven active NBA head coaches stem from Popovich’s tutelage in San Antonio. Entering the season, that group included former head coaches Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz) and James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets).

A vast network of assistant head coaches include the Celtics' Will Hardy, the Brooklyn Nets' Jacque Vaughn and Atlanta Hawks' Joe Prunty.

Even two current general managers — the Oklahoma City Thunder's Sam Presti and Nets' Sean Marks — fall in the Popovich rainforest.

Popovich also brought Becky Hammon into the Spurs’ coaching fold, the first woman to coach a major American men’s professional sports team after he was ejected from a game in December. Hammon now coaches the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA, who boast a league-best 10-2 record.

Here’s a glance at each of the current NBA head coaches who branch off the Popovich tree:

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 29: Head coach Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks (R) speaks with Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on March 29, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Mike Budenholzer helped lead Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to Milwaukee's first NBA title since 1971. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Budenholzer worked under Popovich as an assistant in San Antonio, where the Spurs reached the NBA Finals five times (and won four) between 1996 and 2013. Before landing in Milwaukee, Budenholzer served as the Atlanta Hawks’ head coach from 2013-18.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 02: Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics speaks to his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game One of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 02, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Celtics' Ime Udoka is two Finals wins away from a dream season for a rookie head coach. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Ime Udoka, Boston Celtics

Udoka played two seasons for Popovich in San Antonio and served as an assistant coach for the Spurs’ back-to-back Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014.

The first-year head coach said his mentor left a “nice voicemail” for him after the Celtics made the Finals, but after seeing firsthand how much Popovich had been “bothered” by his former assistants during the postseason, Udoka said he has made a point to not hound his former coach.

May 11, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins talks to his team during a timeout against the Golden State Warriors during game five of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach Taylor Jenkins has led Memphis to the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the Grizzlies. (Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports)

Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies

Jenkins, 37, started his NBA career as an intern in the Spurs’ front office. By 30, Jenkins had already been named the head coach of the Spurs' G League affiliate, and took the job as Memphis’ head coach at 34 after working a stint as one of Budenholzer’s assistants in Atlanta.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 04: Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the first half of Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 04, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Monty Williams had another successful regular season with the Phoenix Suns as their head coach. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns

Williams, this season's NBA Coach of the Year, was a Spurs player during Popovich’s first two years at the helm, and a coaching intern during San Antonio’s championship 2004-05 season.

Under Williams’ leadership, Phoenix boasted the league’s best regular season record (64-18, the most wins and highest winning percentage, .780, in franchise history) before falling to the Mavericks in the conference semifinals.

TOKYO, JAPAN August 7:  Gregg Popovich, head coach of the United States team on the sideline with assistant coaches Jay Wright and Steve Kerr  during the France V USA basketball final for men at the Saitama Super Arena during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on August 7, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Steve Kerr (middle), pictured with Gregg Popovich (right) at the Tokyo Games in 2021 leading Team USA, is looking for NBA championship No. 4 as head coach of the Warriors. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Kerr played for Popovich from 1998-2003 in San Antonio. The two also coached together in Tokyo, where Team USA won gold, and Kerr was named Popovich’s replacement as the head coach of the men’s national team in December.

This year makes six NBA Finals appearances as a coach for Kerr and a chance for a fourth championship. He was the league’s 2015-16 Coach of the Year.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a player in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich was the general manager. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a player in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich was the general manager. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers

Rivers played his final two NBA seasons in San Antonio from 1994 to 1996, when Popovich was the team's general manager and before he took over as its head coach. Rivers was a member of the Spurs' broadcast team in 1999, Popovich's third season at the helm, and reportedly almost his last after his championship-caliber squad opened the shortened lockout season 6-8. There was a sense that Rivers would be called to replace Popovich should the team not improve. As history came to know, San Antonio improved to 37-13 on the season and won its first NBA title.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 31: Head coach of the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich greets assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors Mike Brown at the end of regulation but the game was not over at AT&T Center on December 31, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Head coach of the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich greets assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors Mike Brown in a December 2019 game. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings

Before head-coaching stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, Brown was an assistant under Popovich from 2000-03. In that final season in San Antonio, the Spurs won a championship. Brown would eventually lose to Popovich in the NBA Finals in 2007 as head coach of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. He is currently finishing up his run with the Warriors as an assistant before leading the Kings next season.

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