Spurs coach Gregg Popovich meets his match in ESPN “sideline reporter for a day” Jeff Van Gundy

Last night’s Dallas Mavericks-San Antonio Spurs telecast was further evidence of why the NBA on ESPN is must-see TV.

As the third quarter of the Spurs’ 112-90 win wound down, play-by-play commentator Ryan Ruocco and analyst Jeff Van Gundy began discussing Van Gundy’s upcoming interview with the Spurs coach and notorious intimidator of sideline reporters, Gregg Popovich.

Coming back from break, Van Gundy “nervously” tried to ask a question as Popovich appeared to become increasingly agitated and the rookie sideline reporter (allegedly) exhibited some flop sweat. But, all’s well that ends well, and Van Gundy got a big hug and an “I love you” from the four-time NBA Champion coach as the 30-second interview ended. A moment was born.

Ruocco explained how it all came together:

“Our producer, Michael Molinari, came up with the idea,” said Ruocco, co-host of ESPN New York’s Stephen A. Smith Show (1-3 p.m. ET, daily). “He thought it’d be awesome to have Jeff do the interview and sure enough Jeff was totally game. Michael knew it’d create a memorable moment.

“I haven’t worked with Jeff a ton but it’s easy to tell he’s the kind of guy who is cool and likes to have fun, so it was the perfect setting,” he said. “He and Coach Pop have a fantastic relationship too so I think they both were insistent upon making that memorable which, to no one’s surprise, they did.”

Van Gundy, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, praised his own work.

“That’s an Emmy reel interview that will be a teaching tape for all sideline interviewers for years to come,” Van Gundy said.

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