In the midst of game 2 action last night in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, news broke that Erin Popovich, wife of the legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, had passed away after a bout with an unknown illness. As a result, it has been announced today that, understandably, he will not be coaching tonight’s game 3 matchup at home against the Warriors. It is unclear if he will return beyond that in any ensuing games.
The news rocked the NBA world, where, despite his curmudgeonly media persona and reputation, Pop is beloved and respected by just about everyone. This includes Lebron James, who has, according to reports, become close with the 22 year Spurs coach after two hard-fought finals between the two in 2013 and 2014. James found out about Erin’s death just after his Cavs defeated the Pacers in game 2 of their series 100-97 when TNT reporter Allie LaForce broke the news to him after a couple standard questions about the game and his performance. James was visibly shaken and at a loss for words, finally mustering an emotional “I know that’s devastating news … holy s—. It’s just a lot. The NBA family, we stick together. I know we compete every night, but something like this happens, and it just puts everything in perspective. … I know the man above never makes a mistake, even when sometimes you have to ask why, but that’s just terrible news, and my best of luck to Pop and everyone in San Antonio and the whole Spurs family.” Once finished, he thanked LaForce and headed back to the Cavaliers locker-room. He appeared somber and spacy as he walked.
Some have taken issue with LaForce’s decision to break the news to Lebron so soon after the game when perhaps he was not emotionally ready to deal with the news. Twitter users attacked both LaForce and TNT, accusing them of sensationalism and heartlessness.
Jordan Zirm, an ESPN Cleveland sports reporter under the username @clevezirm tweeted “Allie La Force is a really good sideline reporter. feels like someone (a producer) pushed her to drop that question about Pop’s wife on LeBron. it feels gross because TNT wanted to make a neat little viral clip of it.” A user named Ryan G tweeted: “Atrocious reporting from TNT’s sideline reporter, blindsiding Lebron with the news of the death of Greg[sic] Popovich’s wife seconds after the game ended. Lebron handled it exceptionally, but that blindside searching for a reaction was disgusting.”
Upon finding out about the guff LaForce was taking on social media, Lebron took to Twitter a few hours after the interview to defend her by way of video on the Uninterrupted account, a notable action, considering that he largely avoids social media during playoff time. “I was made aware by some friends…” he said, “that a question was asked to me post game and a lot of people thought I was blindsided. That is absolutely false.”
He went on to explain that LaForce had given Lebron a heads-up that the question was coming shortly before the interview began. “Once I started talking about it, once we were on the air, actually my emotions just kind of just kind of took over, my emotions about the late Erin Popovich.” He concluded with “please get off Allie LaForce’s back. She followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So get off her back man, she’s very professional and she does a great job…”
Lebron will take the floor again on Friday night in Indianapolis for game 3, while the Spurs play tonight at home without coach Pop against the Warriors.