Erin Popovich was by her husband’s side for the last four decades and a fixture of the San Antonio Spurs organization for the last 22 years, supporting her husband through triumphs and helping to calm his famously fiery demeanor.
The 67-year-old wife of the legendary NBA coach died early on Wednesday after an extended illness, ESPN reported. She had been married to Gregg Popovich for 40 years, falling in love after meeting at Air Force Academy where he worked as an assistant coach and Erin’s father served as the athletic trainer.
“We mourn the loss of Erin,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said in a statement issued Wednesday night. “She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”
Erin was by Gregg’s side through five NBA titles, and many former players said she was a fixture within the organization as well, bringing humor and support for her husband and his players. Though she remained largely out of the spotlight, Erin was also credited with keeping her bombastic husband in check.
In a 2012 radio interview, Gregg Popovich explained that his wife told him to cool down his sideline outbursts.
“It entertains everybody but my wife. 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.’
“And there’s no exaggeration. ‘Did you see that guy honey? Did you see him? All you have to do is see him and you know why I answered the way I did.’ (She says) ‘That’s no excuse, you’re a grown man. Show some maturity.’ I said ‘I can’t, I can’t do it.’ “
As the news of her passing spread, Erin Popovich was also trending across social media, with many looking for pictures of the coach’s late wife. Erin tended to stay away from the spotlight and there are few pictures of her, though she did get some attention at the 2007 wedding of Spurs guard Tony Parker and actress Eva Longoria. The wedding drew huge international media, and a very well-dressed Erin Popovich was photographed with her husband.
The news of her passing also brought an outpouring of support from across the basketball world. Popovich is one of the most popular coaches in the league, even beyond his own players, and some of those closest to him showed their support. LeBron James gave a tearful interview following his team’s Game 2 win, saying that her death was devastating.
Kevin Durant also spoke out to let Gregg Popovich know that others are behind his family in their time of need.
“I just want Pop to know that the whole NBA family is supporting him and got his back through it all,” Durant said. “It’s bigger than the game. It’s bigger than winning and losing. It’s about the brotherhood we built as NBA players and everybody in the NBA family. I feel so bad for Pop and his family. That’s just tough to hear about.”
After the death of Erin Popovich, Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina is expected to take over the head coaching duties for Game 3 of the team’s opening round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.