San Antonio, NBA Mourn Passing of Erin Popovich, Recall Her Kindness

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Gregg and Erin Popovich

Courtesy / San Antonio Spurs

Gregg and Erin Popovich

Russ Bookbinder remembers the Christmas cards. They arrived in the mail each December with a handwritten note to him and his wife, a warm expression of holiday cheer from Erin Popovich, who stayed far from the spotlight of her famous husband.

“Tammy and I could always count on a personal Christmas note from Erin,” said Bookbinder, the Spurs’ former executive vice president for business operations and current President and CEO of San Antonio Sports. “She always included an encouraging note in our card. It went beyond a salutation. It was meaningful. She was kind and humble and gracious. You are always sad when you lose a member of your greater family.”

Erin Popovich, the wife of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, died on Wednesday, reportedly after a long illness. The couple was married for four decades, according to a team news release, and had two children and two grandchildren. They were married while Popovich was an assistant coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the mid-1970s.

Spurs general manager RC Buford released a statement: “We mourn the loss of Erin. She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”

The team announced Thursday morning that Popovich would not coach the Spurs in Game 3 of its first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. Assistant Coach Ettore Messina will lead the team’s in Popovich’s absence.

Popovich rarely spoke about his wife with the media. But on one memorable occasion in October 2012, during an interview with Miami radio host Dan Le Batard, the coach revealed how she felt about his cold, abrasive encounters with sideline reporters.

“It entertains everybody but my wife,” the coach said. “When I get home and she says, ‘Geez, why are you so mean? You’re a jerk. People hate you.’ I go, ‘I’m sorry honey. I have to do better next time.”

The Spurs coach said he would point out the ridiculous questions of reporters to Erin. But that didn’t change her view.

“That’s no excuse,’” Popovich recalled his wife saying. “‘You’re a grown man. Show some maturity.’ I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t do it.’”

The sudden passing of Erin Popovich stunned San Antonio and was felt across the NBA and beyond. Condolences and prayers poured in from dignitaries, such as former President Bill Clinton, and NBA players, including LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Clinton tweeted, “Coach Popovich – I join the NBA family and countless fans across the country who are thinking of you, Jill and Micky tonight as you mourn the loss of your Erin.”

Erin rarely spoke with reporters, preferring to live as quietly and invisibly as any head coach’s wife in the league. Some players spoke of her kindness and friendliness. Others said they simply didn’t know her well enough to comment.

Erin Popovich is the daughter of the late Jim Conboy, the first athletic trainer at the Air Force Academy, where her husband played basketball and graduated in 1970. Conboy served as the athletic trainer at the academy from 1955 until his passing in 1998. He was inducted in the Air Force Academy Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

8 thoughts on “San Antonio, NBA Mourn Passing of Erin Popovich, Recall Her Kindness

  1. Typo alert in this otherwise sensitive, beautifully written story. Last sentence, third paragraph: “There” should be “They were”.

  2. My wife and I are so sorry to hear about the passing of your wife. I know as much as you love basketball that your family was the most important in your mind. I hope you know that besides your Spurs family all Spurs fans and people all our country are hurting and praying for you and your family.

  3. Dear Coach: I mourn with you in the loss of your beautiful Erin. I did not know her personally, but the kind and beautiful attributes that was shared made me strive to display those characteristics.
    Just know that God is with you and your Family. It’s one of those things in life you never get over, you just learn to live with.

  4. Dear Coach Popovich, Sorry to hear about the passing of your wife Erin. My condolences to you and your family. Praying that you will find comfort and understanding real soon. Cherish her memories.

  5. Dear Popovich Family
    Words cannot express the pain you all are experiencing at the loss of your wife and mother.

    My family walked down this same path 14 years ago and thankfully the pain does become manageable in time.

    As a believer, I know there is life after death and Erin now has a pain free, glorify body in Heaven.

    Please know you now have a personal “prayer warrior” in Heaven watching over your family.

    God Bless The Popovich Family.

  6. To Pop and your entire family we are so sorry for your beloved Erin’s passing. May you find comfort in the weeks to come.

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