LOS ANGELES — In a move that came as a surprise to everyone, Gregg Popovich was not on the Spurs’ bench Sunday night against the Lakers due to an illness.
Long-time Spurs assistant and former 76ers coach Brett Brown served as head coach for the night and addressed the situation.
“The doctors have checked him out. And we’ve been advised that he’s fine,” Brown said after the loss to Los Angeles. Brown added Popovich, 73, never left the building — he was not taken to the hospital — but provided no other details. The Spurs called it an undisclosed illness.
Popovich’s absence was a surprise because 90 minutes before game time Popovich met with the media, speaking for more than 12 minutes about LeBron James and his chase of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, the challenges of coaching a young team, and more. At the time, nothing appeared amiss.
Popovich’s absence was a surprise to Brown, too, who said he found out “about 20 seconds” before the team took the court that he would be coaching.
“It’s always a human thing,” Brown said of his reaction. “He’s a dear friend of mine. We’ve been with each other, known each other for a quarter of a century. That’s not a short period of time, and so my immediate reaction is, ‘How is he?’ He has such amazing endurance, and he’s such an amazing competitor, when something like that happens, you’re concerned.”
Before the game, Popovich was providing perspective on the team’s struggles, not talking illness.
“You have to assess an individual’s development based on where they started from, and how much they continue to glean from whether it’s you know, practice or film or shootarounds, game situations, that sort of thing,” Popovich said. “So it’s about values and goals and that’s how you get through it. And beyond that, you kind of slap yourself. It’s really a tough life. We can’t pay my electric bill. The players can’t pay their gas bills and gas is too expensive for them to buy — come on, give me a break.
“You know, it’s the greatest job in the world. So if you complain, you’re an idiot.”
The Spurs, playing the second night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles and their fifth game in seven days on the road, fell flat and were blown out by the Lakers 123-92.