How the Hoyas radio voice got Gregg Popovich smiling

How the Hoyas radio voice got Gregg Popovich smiling
February 14, 2014, 12:45 pm
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(Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Why did this video of Gregg Popovich hugging Jeff Van Gundy make the rounds last month? Because the San Antonio Spurs coach showed a rare side of his humanity: warmth.

The rigid Popovich also let down his guard when the Spurs were at the Verizon Center earlier this month. Credit longtime Georgetown radio voice Rich Chvotkin with the assist.

The pair's relationship dates back to 1971. Chvotkin's military duties stationed him at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque. He coached the Kirtland basketball team and that year the base hosted the Systems Command Tournament. The tournament winner would advance to the military's World Tournament in Wichita Falls, Texas. 

Showing he knows a thing or two about X's and O's, Chvotkin coached his squad to the title. In the finals, Kirtland outlasted a team from the Sunnyvale (Ca.) Naval Air Station despite 34 points from a recent Air Force graduate named Gregg Popovich.

"We won our systems command tournament championship," Chvotkin said. "We were allowed to take two players from the opposing team in the finals. Gregg was one of them and I've known him ever since."

Chvotkin and his wife, Lynn, moved to the D.C. area a year later. He started calling Georgetown games in 1974 and has remained a fixture ever since. Chvotkin will be on the mic Sunday night and possibly calling a fifth straight Hoyas win as Georgetown plays St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

Shortly after Chvotkin moved East, Popovich returned to the Air Force Academy where he began his coaching journey. "Pops," as Chvotkin calls him, eventually reached the NBA in 1988 as an assistant and took over the Spurs head-coaching gig in 1996. Four NBA championships followed, along with countless scared reporters, especially those doing a live hit on TV.

Chvotkin had no fears about checking in on his one-time player. Assuming the Hoyas are not on the road, Chvotkin makes a point of trekking to Chinatown when San Antonio makes its annual appearance in Washington. Popovich was indeed all smiles when he saw his  former coach outside the visiting team locker room shortly before the Spurs double-overtime win over the Wizards.

"He's always been very forthright," Chvotkin said of Popovich. "He's was as intense in [1971] when I first met him as he is today. He's always very congenial with me since I've known from when we were both young kids."

Now that I've now seen the congenial side of Popovich in person, I might need someone from the Chvotkin clan to produce a picture of the two as young kids, young men. "Pops" is one of those people you can't imagine was ever youthful or fresh-faced, though I take the voice of the Hoyas at his word. After all, he got Popovich to smile. 

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