'The Kind of Person He Was': DeMar DeRozan Shares Personal Story About Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich

Back when DeMar DeRozan was at the helm of the San Antonio Spurs' aspiring franchise, he dealt with the tough loss of his father. Appearing on a podcast years later, the now-Chicago Bulls star shared how Gregg Popovich stood by him during that time.
Mar 25, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan warms up before a basketball game against the Washington Wizards at United Center.
Mar 25, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan warms up before a basketball game against the Washington Wizards at United Center. / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

Many all-time greats have passed through the San Antonio Spurs throughout their 48 years in the NBA, but few have made as big an impact in a short amount of time as DeMar DeRozan. 

In three seasons with the organization, the 34-year-old averaged 21.6 points per game and played at a borderline All-Star level for the entirety of it. There wasn’t much playoff success to be had — he only led the Spurs to the playoffs once in 2019 where they lost to the Denver Nuggets in the first round — but he was still an exceptional talent that guided the rocky post-Kawhi-Leonard era. 

READ MORE: Did Spurs' Late-Season Victory Over Nuggets Affect Playoffs?

A few years removed from the pairing, San Antonio has had nothing but praise for DeRozan. When the Chicago Bulls and Spurs met in December of last season, he and Gregg Popovich embraced before the game, with the legendary head coach calling the forward “one of my all-time favorites.”

For DeRozan, looking back at his time in San Antonio is a little bit different. His time with the Toronto Raptors was at the peak of his career, coming so close to a chance at the NBA Finals alongside his co-star Kyle Lowry. Getting traded from there was difficult in itself, not to mention the weird predicament the Spurs were in and the feelings of being an “irrelevant” player. 

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with guard DeMar DeRozan during the second half against the Nets at Frost Bank Center.
Dec 19, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Frost Bank Center. / Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

There were certainly good memories for the veteran to carry with him in the future, though. Even though it came from grief, DeRozan opened up about a story that made a significant impact on him on The 25/10 Show.

During his tenure in San Antonio, DeRozan unfortunately went through the significant loss of his father, Frank DeRozan. Demar has been one of the most outspoken advocates of mental health in the NBA, and once he no longer had the man he looked up to his entire life, it deeply affected his struggles with depression. 

On the day his father passed, DeRozan knew he needed to go home and take care of himself for a few days. He called the Spurs' general manager, Brian Wright, letting him know that he was catching a flight back to Los Angeles that night.

“I called the GM, I didn’t want anybody to know, I didn’t want it to be all in the media,” DeRozan said. “Ninety seconds later, I hear a knock at the door. It’s Pop.”

READ MORE: Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich Inducted Into Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Popovich has been long recognized as not only one of the greatest — if not the greatest — coaches of all time, but one of the greatest player’s coaches. He’s there for his players when they need it, and has always advocated for the best interest of his team. 

To no surprise, Popovich made it clear he was there for his team’s leader. The two men shared an emotional moment that night — one both likely needed. And Popovich made for certain that he wasn’t leaving the locker room until DeRozan did. 

“Pop sat in the room and cried with me for two hours,” DeRozan said. "That just showed the person who he was."

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich calls a play against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Delta Center.
Mar 27, 2024; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich calls a play against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Delta Center. / Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Popovich went beyond basketball during that day, and that’s what his player needed. Not everything is about the game, sometimes it’s far beyond it. It’s a gesture that DeRozan probably will never forget, and even though Popovich might not have wanted it to be told, it’s an important story to hear regarding mental health and the NBA. 

READ MORE: Keldon Johnson Shares Uplifting Message About Motivation, Mental Health

“He’ll be mad at me for telling that story,” DeRozan said jokingly. “He never wants credit.”

Whether he wanted it or not, Popovich got some credit this week. 

Unfortunately for him, he can’t make practice tougher on DeRozan for it anymore.


Published
Chase Gemes

CHASE GEMES