SAN ANTONIO -- Jim Boylen knew his days of hamburgers and beer were over. You coach with Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and you're going to eat well and drink better. Salmon, steaks, the finest risottos in the land. And that's before Popovich gets a hold of the wine list. Any night that's not a game night, Popovich and his staff go for dinner somewhere good and tell stories deep into the night.
Fresh off a stint on the Indiana Pacers' coaching staff, Boylen got his first taste of Spurs life last September in San Francisco. As one of the new staffers, he wasn't sure what to expect from the annual coaches' retreats he'd heard about. Some years it's at Popovich's house in Maine, other times it's in a big city like Chicago.
Boylen and Sean Marks were the new guys, called in to replace longtime Spurs coaches Mike Budenholzer, who'd left to coach the Hawks, and Brett Brown, who took over the 76ers' bench. The new coaches had a lot to learn about the fabled "Spurs way," and in preparation had spent the summer literally sweating the details -- doing drills and learning the offense from the lone remaining assistant who'd been there long enough to know the system: Ime Udoka.
But this retreat is where the real learning would begin. About culture, about Popovich, about the team and its history. The lesson began with Game 6. It had to.
"It was interesting," Boylen said. "There was mourning after that loss. There was mourning over the two assistants leaving. And you're coming in wanting to help and support, but you're not sure how to do it."
If you hadn't been a part of that gut-wrenching loss last year in Miami, if you'd only watched it on TV and cringed after Ray Allen's miraculous 3-pointer, how could you? That loss left the Spurs in a special kind of pain. They were so close to a championship. So damn close. And then it was ripped from them, heartstrings shredding like knee ligaments as Allen's 3 passed cleanly through the net.
Popovich had told the team after they fell in Game 7 that, "If this is the worst thing that happens to all of us in our lifetime, then we've all lived pretty privileged lives." He'd meant it, too. But it didn't mean the thing didn't hurt still.
Which is why this season had to begin where last year left off: By watching Game 6. Opening up the wound anew so that there could be a chance of healing the right way.
"We start where we finish," said the Spurs' shooting guru, Chip Engelland, who was Boylen's roommate for the trip. "It's hard to do that. Those were tough days."
Popovich had his coaches room together to get to know each other better and, presumably, for the new guys to marinate in the pain of the 2013 Finals. Once the coaches had bathed in Popovich's torturous healing process in the Bay Area, it was time to spread the hard truths to the players.
It was part cleansing, part therapy. Popovich repeated the exercise on the first day of training camp for the players. They all had to mourn and grieve the championship they'd lost so cruelly in their own time and ways. Nobody should rush that. But to move forward, as the Spurs always do, they had to start with two feet on the ground, in harsh reality.