FACING the San Antonio Spurs three times in the NBA Finals has made LeBron James a believer of Gregg Popovich.
"I think he's the greatest coach of all time," James said to ESPN on Thursday (Friday, Manila time). The Cleveland Cavaliers are scheduled to meet the Spurs on Sunday.
"You have to be sharp, mentally and physically, when you go against his ballclub. If you were an NFL player, it's probably the same as going against a [Bill] Belichick team. What they're going to do, they're going to do and you have to try to figure it out," he added.
The respect is mutual. Popovich has also voiced out his respect for James through the years. His familiarity with the four-time NBA MVP has helped him devise schemes on how to contain the versatile forward, who in turn developed his game especially his outside shooting.
It was a Miami Heat team led by James that gave the San Antonio its only defeat in six trips to the Finals under the long-time coach. The Spurs returned the favor the following season.
The two men got to know each other closely in 2004, James’ second year in the pros and his first with Team USA where Popovich was an assistant coach (the team finished with a bronze medal in the Athens Olympics).
"To be able to do what he's done where the basketball has changed so much and he's been able to have a growth mindset and change with the game [is impressive]," James said. "We went from a league where it was inside out, where every time you came down it was throw it to the big, and then it goes to every time down pick-and-roll, and then it goes to every time down shoot a 3.
"Pop has been able to adjust every single time and still, for some odd reason, keep those guys under the radar. I don't understand it," he added.