Roundtable: Gregg Popovich's in-game interviews: dry comedy or tiring charade?
SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest question of the day. Today, we examine …
Gregg Popovich's in-game interviews are ____________.
Lee Jenkins: Disappointing. The man makes $6 million a year, in part because ESPN and Turner pay the NBA $7.5 billion to broadcast its games. Popovich clearly believes the in-game interviews are intrusive and unnecessary, and maybe he is right. But the TV networks, who foot so many of the teams' bills, have reason to think different. They're not asking for a fireside chat. It's 30 seconds with Doris Burke, a consummate pro who usually asks thoughtful questions, and deserves professional answers. As someone who is privileged enough to have interviewed Popovich away from cameras, he can be incredibly engaging and insightful. It's a shame we can't see that side all the time. We'd learn a lot.
Chris Ballard: Unnecessary. Though you could also go with "painful" or "awkward". I get that networks are trying to provide viewers with as much perspective as possible, but the entire concept of an in-game interview with a head coach is flawed. Why would the coach provide an honest answer? Why would he divulge anything of note? Worse, everyone knows it's a big charade -- the viewers, the hapless interviewer, the annoyed-looking coach. Popovich's performance may be grating to some but it doesn't bother me. In fact, he may be accomplishing the opposite of what he hopes to accomplish, as his angry/laconic/pissed interviews are unfailingly entertaining in a Larry David kind of way, thus making them the lone argument for why the in-game interview should be kept.
Richard Deitsch: Merely performance art. Like a Saturday Night Live sketch, Popovich's in-game interviews are hit or miss these days. You know what's it's coming; it's just a matter of the content and his delivery. There's a part of me as a viewer that enjoys the fact that he's nonconformist. He refuses to play the BS game of simply delievring a banal cliché because the league requires coaches to talk to television rightsholders. The sideline reporters who interview him also know the gag. Trust me, they have good relationships with Popovich away from the camera.But you also wish Popovich would drop the Charlie Bronson act every once in awhile because he's very bright guy who could provide the kind or thoughtful and in-depth analysis that Joe Maddon does in baseball. The sideline stuff doesn't bother me —like I said, I dig the non-conformist streak -- but his act in the press room does. He's too often dismissive of questioners and he can come off like an ass. He's too smart a guy to do that, even if some of the questions he gets are awfully constructed.
Phil Taylor: At least worth watching. Which is more than can be said for most in-game interviews. His unpredictability is welcome, considering how most coaches just find new ways to say their teams have to make so-and-so take tough shots on defense and move the ball better on offense. Pop is prickly, but prickly is better than dull. Some might find him condescending, but his gruffness comes with a twinkle in his eye, so he doesn’t come off as a bully. It might get tiresome if he was always a curmudgeon, but he’s not. Ask him a question he finds worthwhile, and he’ll give a worthwhile answer. Pop’s approach to media members is not unlike his approach to his players – either be prepared, or be prepared to be embarrassed. You can’t sleepwalk through an encounter with Popovich, whether you’re a viewer or reporter, and that’s a good thing.
Ben Golliver: Jumping the shark. I enjoy a good one-liner from Gregg Popovich as much as anyone. His dry wit has produced a number of laugh-worthy moments during press conferences over the last few weeks, and that's when he's at his best: detached slightly from the game, still combative but not too combative, and fully prepared for the types of queries that are coming. Having that distance from the action is crucial; it encourages a little levity from Popovich and makes him more likely to be self-deprecating.
The in-game interviews, by contrast, often devolve to pure rudeness, and his facial expressions are usually the most entertaining part of the act because he's trying so hard not to say anything. What's really bugged me in the last year or two is that the television networks have taken to overhyping these interviews, knowing full well that he's going to take on his jerk persona against their reporters. There's a "Sending the calves to slaughter" slash "We're in on the joke too!" vibe to the whole thing now that is just off-putting. I hate to sound like the Portland hipster cliche, but I liked the Popovich in-game interviews back before they became famous when they were still just interviews -- where anything might happen -- rather than yet another part of the TV teasing.
Matt Dollinger: An acquired taste. Popovich interviews are like crack to NBA Twitter. Popovich could from the phone book or just blink or just make jibberish noises and a group of devotees would still love it. But in general -- and there are plenty of exceptions -- Popovich's humor during the in-game interviews is scorchingly dry and strangely entertaining. Rather than regurgitate the same clichés over and over (I see you Jason Kidd!), Popovich uses the blank spaces between his words -- like a jazz musician -- to accentuate his points. It's not what he's saying that's so interesting, it's what he's not saying that makes him entertaining. His blank stalemate with David Aldridge the other day might have been the pinnacle. Look, I'm not saying everyone should love Gregg Popovich interviews, but I'll probably keep enjoying them as he continues not to.
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Chris Johnson: Not going away. Sports writers like to talk about which coaches and players “give good quotes.” Some of them are candid and rattle off long, detailed answers, we say, while others keep it brief and prefer to spew out clichés. Popovich, though, is so distinct in his approach with the media as to warrant a completely separate discussion. He has a long history of toying with the press, with some of his finest work coming during in-game interviews, particularly those with Turner sideline reporter Craig Sager. We like to make light of Popovich’s solemn glares and terse responses, the incredulity he evinces in response to seemingly mundane questions. But sometimes, maybe we don't spend enough time thinking about the other side of the equation. How does the reporter feel? On a Grantland podcast late last month, ABC’s Doris Burke shed some light on this, saying she was “almost in tears” after one exchange with the Spurs head coach. It’s hard not to feel for Burke or any reporter at the mercy of Popovich’s acerbic wit. But at the same time, Popovich has no obligation to change his behavior. His responses can be as short or as bitter as he wants them to be. Barring an unforeseen change – intervention from NBA officials, say -- Popovich’s in-game interview etiquette is here to stay.
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