When Brett Brown walks through the tunnel that extends from the Sixers' locker room to the Wells Fargo Center hardwood tonight, he will have a little more on his mind then just beating the opposition.
Brown will glance down the sideline and see his friend and mentor, Gregg Popovich, as well as future Hall of Famers, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker -- all three of whom he spent the last 10 years working with.
Now they are the opposition.
For those reasons, tonight’s Sixers-Spurs game isn’t business as usual.
“You can’t help it. That’s where I spent all my NBA days,” Brown said after his morning shootaround. “Arguably one of the greatest influences of my life is Pop, so you can’t help but feel a little bit different.”
Gregg Popovich brings to town a 6-1 Spurs team, which beat the Knicks Sunday 120-89 at Madison Square Garden. Since the 1999-2000 season, the Spurs have won 50 games or more every year.
It is a remarkable feat that Brown got to experience and learn from.
“It is a decade plus of corporate knowledge,” Brown said. “I am watching the Knick game yesterday and they bring Kawhi (Leonard) off the bench, (Manu) Ginobili off the bench, (Tiago) Splitter off the bench, and you scratch your head and say, 'Who started?' There is depth and corporate knowledge. There is a prideful approach in all that they do in terms of detail. They know they have to guard if they are going to go anywhere. It has always been a defense-first program.
“I have seen them go from a post-up team with Timmy (Duncan) to letting Manu drive pick and roles and now to Tony (Parker). The torch has been passed right down the food chain. The peripheral players with regards to their shooting have always remained the same, and so all those things make it a very unique program starting with history, corporate knowledge and stability. Things that are years related.”
Brown’s respect for the Spurs program is vast, as are his feelings for Popovich -- not only as a coach, but also a friend.
“I feel like if you made me say one thing -- his people skills and leadership and accountability qualities as it relates to putting it on his staff or team are just beyond good,” Brown said. “There is a human side of Pop that I am just so fond of and I am grateful to have spent time with him. He is a great X-and-O coach -- we all know that -- but there is something else going on that is the great separator.
Brown said the two still talk three or four times a week.
“He is a friend of mine," he said. "He has been very good to me, and I enjoy his company and we talk way beyond basketball.”
For 48 minutes tonight, basketball will be the focus of both men. A strong outing by the Sixers would show a couple things -- that Saturday night’s double-overtime loss is a thing of the past, and they can compete with the upper-echelon teams.
“They will provide no favors or relief,” Brown said. “They will want to come at us hard as they always do. Pop will Pop and we will do the same. If anything, there is probably another layer of motivation.
“I look forward to playing against players I was with for a long time -- Hall of Fame players, NBA champions -- and using that as a yard stick to see exactly where our young guys are at and where the program is at. It is always great to play one of the best, if not the best.”
Brown’s players feel the same way.
“I think the biggest thing with them is the mental test,” Evan Turner said. “Last year we had them beat here, but then they stepped up and made us pay with 30-40 seconds left, [and] they won the game. Obviously, it is a mental test and we have to play the whole 48 minutes. We can never take our foot off the gas, because they can always come back, because they are an experienced team.”