Shipley cheers on old friend in NBA Finals
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
John Shipley of Hartselle and Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, have something in common. They were teammates on the Merrillville High School basketball team in Gary, Ind. That was back in 1966. Shipley was a senior guard and Popovich a sophomore center. What is even more remarkable is that they're still friends and keep in touch.
"He was the center and I was a guard," Shipley said on Friday, the day after San Antonio won its third NBA championship in seven seasons. "It was my job to get the ball to him so he could score the points. He led us to a conference championship before he left home to play basketball for the Air Force Academy.
"The last time I talked to him in person was in Atlanta earlier this year at a Spurs vs. Hawks game," Shipley stated. "'You can call me a dumb butt if I don't win a championship this year,' he told me.
"I have kept up with Gregg's career as a coach since about 1985," Shipley pointed out. "And we have had contact with each other at least once a year since that time. When the Spurs won the NBA title in 2003, he sent me and my girlfriend a Spurs championship T-shirt.
"I plan to call him and extend my congratulations on his latest title win as soon as I can get through. He's only the third coach in NBA history to win three titles," Shipley added.
Popovich left high school wanting to become a medical doctor, according to Shipley.
"His basketball career took off after he led the Air Force team in scoring and he decided to try his hand at coaching after his military commitment was over," he said. "Ironically, he got his first coaching job at Kansas University when Larry Brown was head coach."
It was Brown's Detroit Pistons who fell to Popovich's Spurs in the playoff finals.
Shipley said Popovich is in a good a position to make another championship run in 2006, with all of his front line players signed to long-term contracts.
One of his key players is Robert Horry, a former player for The University of Alabama.
Horry, who has won six championship rings in the NBA, hit a game-winning three-point shot in the final seconds of Game 5 and scored 15 points in the championship game.
Shipley ended his basketball career in high school. He went on to attend Indiana State University and earn a master's degree in industrial management.
Following a successful career with National Homes, he entered semi-retirement and relocated to Hartselle from Clarksville, Tenn., five years ago.