Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have set the precedent for long-term player/coach success.
Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich first teamed up for an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. Now, 15 years later, the two Spurs mainstays are back in the NBA Finals together. That is the longest span between the first and last appearance in the championship round by any coach/player duo in the four major North American professional sports leagues.
Here is a breakdown of the top coach/player duos for each sport.
The player/coach combination in the NFL is actually a three-way tie, but the common thread is Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins. After the 1971 season, Shula led the Dolphins to Super Bowl VI. 11 years later, the Dolphins were in Super Bowl XVII. Offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg and defensive lineman Vern Den Herder were each on those teams. Shula also paired with offensive lineman Ed Newman in Super Bowl VIII and XIX for another 11-year span between player and coach.
Longest Span - Champ. Appearances
Coach/Player In 4 Major Sports
On the ice, it was Boston Bruins head coach Art Ross teaming with Hall-of-Famer Dit Clapper to win the 1929 Stanley Cup over the New York Rangers. 14 years later, they were back in the Cup Final together, although they lost this one to the Detroit Red Wings in 1943.
Out on the diamond, the longest span between first and last championship round appearances by a duo was an interesting one. In 1970, Milt Wilcox was a rookie pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who would go on to the World Series under skipper Sparky Anderson. 14 years later, they were together again – this time with the Detroit Tigers, where they went on to win the 1984 World Series together.
But perhaps no duo has had a sustained excellence quite like the Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich tandem. They made the 1999 NBA Finals together and now 15 years later – which in professional sports is an absolute eternity – they’re back in the Finals again. None of the other tandems in any of the other sports bookended their span with a pair of wins, but Duncan and Pop can get that done if they beat the Heat this season.