Ailene Voisin

‘That part wears on me’: Joerger opens up about stress after returning from scare

Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to his team during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 22.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to his team during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 22. AP

For those who argue that the NBA is a young man’s game, we present Dave Joerger. He kicks that theory right to the curb. He is only 43 years old, in the best shape in several years, and yet the only thing preventing him from face-planting on the court last Sunday in San Antonio was the long arm of assistant Elston Turner.

 
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“I was scared,” admitted the second-year Kings coach, who returned to practice Thursday and plans to coach Friday’s game against the Golden State Warriors. “I was all the way there (conscious), but I just couldn’t see for that minute. Going to sleep in San Antonio that night, you get scared. Is this the night I meet my maker?”

He was joking about that last part. We think.

In an unusually animated and expansive media session at the Golden 1 Center, Joerger – who was cleared by team physician Dr. Jason Brayley after extensive medical testing failed to reveal anything of concern – was relieved, upbeat, invigorated. Though famously intense and not known for tossing one-liners out in bunches, he peppered his remarks with witty asides and wisecracks.

Those negative test results will do that. Jerry Reynolds, another one-time Kings coach, has spent the past few decades poking fun at the similar fainting spell he experienced while on the sidelines at Arco Arena.

The cause of Joerger’s episode, which occurred as he jumped up quickly to complain to the referees about a non-call, is said to be a familiar one: dehydration.

But the coach also suspects that a combination of stress, the dueling desire to give the veterans some playing time while prioritizing the development of the younger players, and his own significant weight loss were likely contributors. Since switching to a diet heavy on fruits and vegetables at the end of last season, he has dropped 40 pounds and maintained an aggressive workout schedule that includes playing competitive tennis four or five times a week.

“That’s what’s so bizarre about this whole thing. I’m in great shape. When I was heavier, it would have been like, ‘Come on, dummy.’ But it was unbelievable, it was cool,” he said of the tests. “To go through and hear, ‘No, that’s not it. Nah, that’s not it.’ You know nothing is going untouched or unscanned.”

Earlier that Sunday, Joerger related, he was feeling poorly and consulted with a Spurs doctor when he arrived at the SBC Center. Longtime Kings trainer Pete Youngman’s recommendation that he skip the game was rejected. After Turner’s quick instincts kept Joerger from falling to the floor, he was examined by the Spurs team physicians in the locker room and quickly given IV fluids.

Since the incident, he said he has received texts and inquiries from dozens of friends, relatives, media members and other coaches, some who have missed time on the sidelines in recent years with their own health issues, among them the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. Earlier this season, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford, 56, was unavailable for 18 games while working through sleep deprivation issues, and the chronic struggles of Golden State Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, 52, have been exhaustively chronicled.

Popovich, who turned 69 last week, sent a trainer to the Kings’ bench to check on his colleague after he caught sight of the commotion. During an ensuing timeout he looked toward the Kings’ bench, waved at assistant Duane Ticknor, and mouthed, ‘What is going on? Is he OK?’ 

“Obviously we were all very concerned,” said Ticknor, who has known Joerger most of his adult life. “I think we all, as coaches, have experienced that at some time, where you jump up too quick and get lightheaded. My first thought was, he lost all this weight, played tennis four out of five days, was out in the sun, blah, blah, blah. And the stress.”

Ah, yes. Back to stress. Much like our world, the NBA is not a kinder, gentler place these days. The scrutiny is relentless, increasingly harsh and at times overwhelming. In a surprisingly candid admission, Joerger acknowledged being affected by social media and the 24/7 news cycles. Though he rarely looks at Twitter himself, he is kept aware of the trends via the media relations department.

“PR tells me, ‘They are on your a--; they are on your a--,’ ” Joerger said grinning, and nodding toward media director Chris Clark. “We all hear about stuff. The fans, everybody has an opinion about who should be playing. That part wears on me. No question. But I’m trying to do it right, build this the right way.”

Assuming he doesn’t experience additional problems, he will be on the Golden 1 Center sideline Friday against the Warriors, he said, planning to drink even more water than usual.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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