Popular coaching tree includes Steve Kerr, Aimee Udoka in NBA Finals

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (center) has had a profound impact on the NBA. Clockwise from top left to right, look at a tree in his vast forest: Mike Brown (Sacramento head coach), Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee head coach), Monty Williams (Phoenix head coach), Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors head coach), Ime Udoka (Boston head coach), Doc Rivers (Philadelphia head coach), Sam Presti (Oklahoma City general manager), Taylor Jenkins (Memphis head coach) and Sean Marks (General Manager, Brooklyn). (Michael Wagstaff/Yahoo Sports)

This year’s NBA Finals is a battle of Gregg Popovich’s protégés, former player Steve Kerr at the helm of the Golden State Warriors, former assistant coach also fits Popovich, Ime Udoka leads Boston Celtics.

By the end of the month, the former Popovich player will win a ring as a coach. His leadership is undeniable.

Before Game 1 of the Finals, commissioner Adam Silver commented on Popovich’s legacy: “Thank you Greg Popovich. He pretty much runs an academy there [in San Antonio] For future coaches, not just coaches, but team executives. He did an excellent job. “

Popovich is the longest-serving coach on the same team among 122 teams (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) in all major professional sports. He is the most championship-winning coach in NBA history, including five championships (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014), making him one of three active coaches in the league with multiple Finals titles.

Popovich’s legacy can be gleaned from his vast and successful coaching tree. The seven active NBA head coaches came under Popovich’s tutelage in San Antonio. Coming into the season, that group included former head coaches Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz) and James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets).

The vast network of assistant head coaches includes Will Hardy of the Celtics, Jacques Vaughn of the Brooklyn Nets and Joe Plenty of the Atlanta Hawks.

Even two current general managers — Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sean Marks of the Nets — have fallen into Popovich’s rainforest.

Popovich also brought Becky Hammon into the Spurs’ coaching staff, the first woman to coach a major U.S. men’s professional sports team after being ejected from a game in December. Hammon now coaches the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA, which have a league-best 10-2 record.

Here’s a glimpse of current NBA head coaches from the Popovich tree branch:

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 29: Milwaukee Bucks (R) head coach Mike Budenholzer during the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on March 29, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Conversation with Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tim Nwachuku/Getty Images)

Mike Budenholzer helped lead Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to Milwaukee’s first NBA championship since 1971. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Budenholzer was an assistant coach in San Antonio under Popovich, and the Spurs reached the NBA Finals five times (and won four) between 1996 and 2013. Before landing in Milwaukee, Budenholzer was the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 2013-18.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 2: Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka during Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals at the San Chase Center on June 2, 2022 in the fourth quarter against Talk to his team during Golden State's game suspension in Francisco, Calif. Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Celtics’ Ime Udoka is two Finals wins away from a rookie head coach’s dream season. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Ime Udoka, Boston Celtics

Udoka played two seasons for Popovich in San Antonio and was an assistant coach for the Spurs in back-to-back Finals in 2013 and 2014.

The first-year head coach said his mentor left him a “great voicemail” after the Celtics reached the Finals, but after witnessing Gregg Popovich being sacked during the playoffs. After his former assistants were “broken”, Udoka said he had made a point not to pester his former coach.

May 11, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach Tyler Jenkins pauses against the Golden State Warriors during Game 5 of the second round of the 2022 NBA playoffs at the FedEx Forum Talk to his team during.Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Tyler Jenkins led Memphis to the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the Grizzlies. (Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies

Jenkins, 37, started his NBA career with a front-office internship with the Spurs. By age 30, Jenkins had already been named head coach of the Spurs G-League affiliate and head coach of Memphis at age 34, after serving as one of Budenholzer’s assistants in Atlanta.

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 4: Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams during the second round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs at the Trail Center on May 4, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona The first half of the second game reacted. Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

Monty Williams had another success as head coach of the Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns

Williams, this season’s NBA Coach of the Year, was a player for the Spurs during Popovich’s first two years in charge and was a coaching intern during the Spurs’ 2004-05 championship run.

Under Williams, Phoenix had the league’s best regular-season record (64-18, the most wins and winning percentage in franchise history, .780) before losing to the Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 7: Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich with assistant coaches Jay Wright and Steve Kerr at the France V USA Basketball during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo on August 2020 at Saitama Super Arena Courtside during the finals on July 7, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Steve Kerr (center) is pictured with Gregg Popovich (right) leading the U.S. team at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and he is looking for NBA champion No. 4 as the Warriors’ head coach. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Kerr played for Popovich in San Antonio from 1998 to 2003.The two also coached together in Tokyo, where Team USA won a gold medal, and Kerr named Popovich’s successor as men’s national team head coach in December.

As Kerr’s coach this year, he’s made six NBA Finals and has a chance at a fourth. He was the league’s 2015-16 Coach of the Year.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a player in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich was general manager.  (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a player in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich was general manager. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Dr. Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers

Rivers played his last two NBA seasons in San Antonio from 1994 to 1996, when Popovich was the team’s general manager, before he took over as head coach. Rivers was part of the Spurs broadcast team in 1999, in Popovich’s third season as coach, and reportedly nearly his last as his championship-caliber team went 6-8. The score kicked off a shortened lockout season. There’s a sense that Rivers will be asked to replace Popovich if the team doesn’t improve. As history knows, the Spurs improved to 37-13 this season and won their first NBA championship.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 31: San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich greets Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown at the end of supervision, but the game doesn't take place on December 31, 2019 AT&T Center in San Antonio ends in Antonio, Texas. Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Cortez/Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich greets Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown at a game in December 2019. (Photo by Ronald Cortez/Getty Images)

Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings

Brown was an assistant under Popovich during the 2000-03 season before serving as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers. In his final season in San Antonio, the Spurs won a championship. As head coach of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Brown ultimately lost to Popovich in the 2007 NBA Finals. He’s currently finishing with the Warriors as an assistant before leading the Kings next season.

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