Photo: San Antonio Spurs/Twitter

After guiding the Denver Nuggets to its first-ever title this year, Michael Malone already solidified his case as one of the best in the current head coaching scene of the NBA. But for him, he won’t be able to attain this success without the help of Gregg Popovich.

As he appeared on The “Lowe Post” podcast of ESPN’s Zach Lowe in late July, Malone (5:51 mark) expressed his utmost appreciation to the San Antonio Spurs’ longtime mentor for opening him the league’s coaching gates.

“Coach Popovich, he’s you know obviously, arguably the greatest NBA coach in the history of the game,” Malone told Lowe. “He was so influential in me getting a job in Cleveland with Mike Brown and Danny Ferry years ago. He was instrumental in helping me get a job (to) Monty Williams in New Orleans, and I would not have ever become a head coach in NBA if it wasn’t for Gregg Popovich and everything he did for me and my family.”

Before being a seasoned tactician of himself, Malone had humble beginnings and started his coaching career in the NBA as a member of Mike Brown’s staff in the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005 to 2010 wherein the franchise featured the young superstar LeBron James.

And when he was able to finally net his first head coaching gig at the Sacramento Kings back in the 2013-14 season, Malone revealed that it was Popovich who also reached out to him to express regards and well thoughts for the step up he made in his career.

“The first thought that comes to mind is when I got the head coaching job in Sacramento I think in 2013,” Malone said. “Coach Popovich called me up and said ‘Listen, be yourself. You’re Irish, you’re fiery, you (can) be emotional. Be yourself you always be yourself but if you’re going to be that, your players have to know that you love (them).’ 

“Look at Pop like he’s his own coach but he’s emotional, he’s fiery, but his players to this day always know that he loves (them) and cares about (them). And if I was doing that Zach if I was calling my players out but I wasn’t with them, they didn’t feel that I was with them, I probably wouldn’t be here anymore.”

Known for implementing a hard-nosed approach, Popovich was still able to earn love and respect from his players for his entire coaching stay in San Antonio since 1996. His rugged demeanor also allowed the Spurs – with the help of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili – to become one of the most renowned basketball dynasties in the modern era in courtesy of their five NBA championships.

Popovich’s legacy and contribution to the game will officially be immortalized on Aug. 12 as one of the key members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2023.