Like Michael Jordan, Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich (right) was cut from high school basketball team.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Everybody knows the story about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore.
His Airness held on to the snub like his favorite pillow, using it as motivational fuel to win six NBA championships.
Jordan isn't the only one to have his self-esteem shredded after finding his name missing from a cut list.
Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, was cut from the varsity basketball team in high school. So was I.
By the same coach as Popovich – Bill Metcalf at Merrillville High School, just south of Gary, Indiana.
"His Mom told me that I ruined his life," Metcalf once told the Associated Press.
Funny, but that's pretty much what my Mom said when it happened to her son. My Mom simply said it with more Eastern European gusto.
That's where the Popovich/Bozich stories divert.
Pop was cut before his sophomore season. I got the ziggy during the middle of my junior year when Metcalf decided that if his team was going to finish 1-19, he could do it with freshmen and sophomores, instead of juniors and seniors.
Popovich rallied to play two varsity seasons for the MHS Pirates. He earned an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, which directed him toward a coaching career, which led him to a job with Larry Brown, which has resulted in a career that will push Popovich into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. He's not Red Auerbach, but he's close enough.
If the Spurs beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat, it will be their fifth NBA title. Who's a better NBA coach right now than Pop?
I watched Pop play most of his high school home games. He was gritty, determined, competitive and selfless – just like the Spurs. It's only a small stretch to say San Antonio plays like a collection of guys who pass the basketball as if they don't want to get cut by Popovich.
I don't remember how many points Pop scored, but it was a bunch. My standard joke is that if you combine our Merrillville high school numbers (we were there in different years), Pop and I delivered 567 points.
Pop had 565 – and I had two.
It's a line that always draws a laugh. But it's not the point of this column.
The point is that sooner or later, we all fail to make the cut. Right? Ask Landon Donovan.
I used to blame Metcalf for what happened. Now I blame somebody else – me.
Needed to work harder. Play more hours. Run all summer. Shoot all night. Live at the playground. Do the work.
Does Popovich remember the snub? What do you think?
Popovich once told Al Hamnik of the Northwest Indiana Times that he was such an important player at Merrillville that Metcalf never knew his first name. He thought it was "Craig," not "Greg," and called him "C.C."
"That's how important I am," Popovich said. "My high school coach had no idea my first name was Gregg. So I felt very special.
"I felt from that day, if I do become a coach at some point, I should probably learn a little bit about my players."
Popovich also learned another thing: He needed to change his approach.
Apparently, he did. Jim Vermillion, one of the assistant coaches at Merrillville, shared this story with the Indianapolis Star:
"What does a kid do when he gets in the gym? He shoots," Vermillion told The Star. "Not Gregg. He'd do defensive slides, line drills, and he'd do them on his own. He was the hardest-working kid I've seen."
I’ve never interviewed Popovich. But I'll predict that he'd tell me that getting cut by Bill Metcalf was a moment he's never forgotten – as well as a moment that Pop needed.