NBA mourns death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

SAN ANTONIO (AP) – The NBA is paying tribute to the wife of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Erin Popovich died Wednesday at 67, the team said. Her death came after a long illness, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

LeBron James, who was playing Game 2 of Cleveland’s first-round series against Indiana, was visibly upset when told after the game.

“Obviously, I’m a huge Pop fan. I love Pop. That’s such a tragedy,” James said during his postgame interview on 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 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. team under Popovich at the 2020 Tokyo Games after skipping the Rio Olympics.

Popovich has coached San Antonio since 1996, leading the Spurs to five NBA titles. San Antonio trails Golden State 2-0 in their first-round playoff series.

The 69-year-old Popovich ran practice Wednesday, but there was no immediate word on his status for Game 3 on Thursday night. Assistant coach Ettore Messina likely would lead the team if Popovich were to miss it.

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.

Spurs general manager RC Buford called Erin Popovich a “strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”

Former Spurs assistant and current Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he has known her 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. My deepest sympathies to Pop and his daughters.”

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