SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The death of the wife of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has brought an outpouring of support across the NBA.
Erin Popovich died Wednesday at 67, the team said without disclosing details. Her death came after a long illness, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Spurs star Manu Ginobili says the team is “devastated, we are all hurting.” But the players will “go out there and compete” and respect Popovich’s philosophy of playing with “fire” and “determination.”
The Spurs trail the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in the first round, with the playoff series shifting to San Antonio on Thursday night. The 69-year-old coach — one of the NBA’s most respected figures — ran practice Wednesday but will not be on the sideline for Game 3. Assistant Ettore Messina will coach the team.
Spurs general manager RC Buford said at Thursday’s shootaround he spoke to Popovich in the morning and he’s “overwhelmed by the support.”
“Erin and Gregg were best friends who were together for 40 years, and Erin’s impact and influence on our organization, on our families, on our players and their families will be felt for years to come,” Buford said. “He’s very appreciative of the love that’s been shared with our group, and with him and his family and Erin’s family.
“As you’d expect from Pop, he wants our focus to be about the game today, about this series, and that’s what today will be about.”
LeBron James was visibly upset when told of her death after Game 2 of the Cavaliers-Pacers series.
“I’m a huge Pop fan. I love Pop. That’s such a tragedy,” James told TNT. “My best wishes go out to Pop and his family. That’s devastating news.
“The NBA family, we all stick together. I know we compete every night. But something like this happens, it puts everything in perspective.”
Popovich has coached San Antonio since 1996, leading the Spurs to five NBA titles. He also is the current Olympic men’s basketball coach.
James calls him a “mastermind of the game” and has said he’d consider playing for the U.S. under Popovich at the 2020 Tokyo Games after skipping the Rio Olympics.
When told of Erin Popovich’s death, Golden State’s Kevin Durant said from San Antonio: “Seriously? Man. Prayers and condolences go out to his family.”
The Popovichs have two daughters and two grandchildren. They met at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s when he was an assistant coach for the Falcons. Erin’s father, Jim Conboy, was Air Force’s head athletic trainer.
Former Spurs assistant and current Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he’s known Erin a long time.
“Their family is wonderful,” he said. “Their family has been incredibly kind to my family. And she was a star, like a real star. A very strong woman, and somebody that will be missed.”
Bill Russell , Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant were among those expressing condolences on Twitter. Steve Nash wrote on Twitter, “Knowing Pop, it’s fair to assume Erin Popovich was an absolute legend.”