Coach Gregg Popovich calls him “The Political One.”
Jabari Young, a San Antonio Express-News reporter that has covered the Spurs for multiple years, is one of the few media members who has found great success in working with Coach Pop. Although Pop has embarrassed him over the years just like any other reporter who has asked a subpar question, Young, this season, has gotten Pop to open up and express his thoughts on some of the hottest social and political topics facing the nation today. Not an easy task.
We sat down with San Antonio Express-News staff writer Jabari Young t0 discuss what it’s like to cover Coach Pop, his most embarrassing moment with Pop and the one word you don’t use when asking the legendary coach a question.
George Kiel: What has it been like covering Coach Popovich over the past half decade?
Jabari Young: I’ve been lucky. I think we all, in our own way, have a small type of relationship with him. I haven’t known him for years and years like the great, retired Buck Harvey – who I think had the best relationship with Coach Pop in private (I think he might be the only media dude who has Pop’s number and can just call him in the middle of the summer and get a quote whenever) – but I’ve been able to pick and choose my spots while covering the Spurs. When I first got chewed out by Pop for using the word ‘happy,’ I remember going up to Buck and asking, ‘Yo, how do you talk to Pop?’ I’m from the Philly realm of media where, if you don’t talk to us, we rip you into pieces. And everyone is so open out there because it’s a big market. San Antonio is the exact opposite. Buck’s advice was to just approach Pop like everyone else – everyone has their good days and bad days so you have to pinpoint when he’s having a good day and when he’s having a bad day. So now, I think really hard about the questions that I want to ask him because Pop appreciates the art of asking a good question. If you ask him a ‘Yes or No’-type question, he’s gonna give it you. If there is anything that I have learned about Pop over the years, it’s that he appreciates good humor, and he can tell when a person has gotten over himself. To him, basketball isn’t as serious as life itself.
Kiel: Describe the first time Coach Pop embarrassed you in media gathering.
Young: I remember it like it was yesterday. In 2014, we were in Miami waiting to speak to Pop after a loss to the Heat and I think I asked him, ‘Hey Pop, I know you guys lost but are you happy with anything?’ He responded, ‘Coach is never happy about anything.’ On top of that, he gave me this eerie death look, and I remember everyone there looking directly at me and I just felt super embarrassed. I really thought that was a pretty good question. Seconds later, another reporter asked him the same question without using the word ‘happy,’ and Coach gave him a great answer. The reporter who asked the question then whispered in my ear, ‘Never use the word ‘happy’ with Coach.’ What’s funny is this year, he’s used the word ‘happy’ numerous times. I called him out on it once; he smiled and said, ‘You know, you should call me out on that more.’
Kiel: Do you sense fear in some reporters when approaching Coach Pop because they don’t want to get embarrassed?
Young: Definitely! But I think people often forget that Coach Pop is a military guy, and I think military guys have a certain type of demeanor about them where if they don’t feel like being bothered, they’ll give you body language that’s reflective of that. I think you have to study that. When Coach Pop comes out and gives you a bunch of one-word answers, you just have to come to the realization that he doesn’t want to be bothered that day, which is fine.
Kiel: Is there something about Coach Pop that catches media members off guard or shocks them in any kind of way?
Young: He keeps it real, and I’ve told him that before to which he always grins. The one thing that, I think, people haven’t learned yet – other than to not use the word ‘happy’ – is he doesn’t watch film. Other reporters from outside of San Antonio always ask him, ‘What do you think of this team?’ or ‘How do you plan to guard this team’s play?’ and he always replies with, ‘I don’t know; I don’t watch film.’ They all think he’s lying, but he’s serious. I remember when we were in New Orleans for a Spurs vs. Pelicans game, and a reporter asked him that question; he kind of looked at all of the San Antonio media and chuckled. I answered the reporter’s question for him, saying ‘he doesn’t watch film,’ and Pop laughed. He feels as if he has enough going on with his team than to worry about someone else’s team. Now of course in the Playoffs, he’ll watch film but to ask him that in the middle of the regular season is a no-no.