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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Across the Pond - Preview

Across the Pond:
My thoughts via a Dream Team Coach and my prayer is sent out to Chuck Daly as we “Tipped One” up in Boston

By Terry Lyons

BOSTON – There were a number of “NBA lifers” in the Boston Garden tonight. Celts PR man Jeff Twiss is the class act of the Celtics’ franchise and he certainly fits the bill as an NBA lifer. Orlando assistant coach Brendan Malone, who began his career at NYC’s legendary Power Memorial HS in 1968 and now has more than 20 years of NBA coaching experience after successful stints in HS and college, is another true NBA lifer.

Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, born October 13, 1961, is well on his way to the title and his trusty assistant, Clifford Ray, is a full-fledged, card-carrying NBA lifer while fellow coaches, Armond Hill and Tom Thibodeau, are soon to gain the lofty title. Not to be forgotten, classy Ed Lacerte, the head athletic trainer for the Celtics, is a lifetime member of a gutsy group of men who work miracles along the road, treat injuries, tape ankles and really earn the title of an NBA lifer.

So when the official NBA basketball was held high tonight and the ‘pivotal” Game Five of the Boston Celtics versus Orlando Magic series tipped off just a little while after the Celtics game night operations people pumped up the crowd with a Phil Collins oldie called, “In the Air Tonight,” my mind wandered a bit and a giant, golf-ball-sized lump came forth in my throat when I thought to myself, “I have never, ever attended an NBA game when Chuck Daly wasn’t in the very same building or somewhere watching it.”

Daly passed away this past weekend at the age of 78. He died of dreaded complications in a lightening fast descent after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer not too long back. As the NBA Playoffs began, I am sure the loyal, Basketball 24/7 audience noticed the small “CD” lapel pins being worn by all of the NBA league coaches and many of the broadcasters, league and team personnel. The NBA Coaches Association, headed up by their sharp legal guru, Michael Goldberg, distributed the pins to all of the “NBA lifers” to wear this playoff season in honor of Chuck Daly. And, I can proudly say, I was very honored to have my Chuck Daly/CD pin arrive in the mail a couple weeks ago.

Daly was able to enjoy the tribute for a few weeks before the dreaded disease caught up with him and took his life with his family at his side in the great State of Florida. My friend, Pistons head PR man, Matt Dobek, was a large part of the Pistons while also a member of Chuck’s immediate family. Matt spent most of March and April with Chuck as he suffered through some chemotherapy sessions which were human, earthling doctor’s orders trying to match-up against the BIG Dr. G in the sky. Guess who won?”

But, long before his death, Daly relished his place in the NBA. He was the dean of many an NBA coach who hailed from the Pittsburgh/Philly/Pennsylvania area code. Chuck was born about 90-miles from Pittsburgh, in St. Marys, PA. He landed his first job in basketball at a place where Ground Hog Punxsutawney Phil makes his debut and either sees his shadow or doesn’t come Feb 2. Yes, Chuck started at Punxsutawney (PA) High School in 1955 after growing up in Pennsylvania in the ‘first’ global depression.
He would go on to a career as an assistant coach at Duke University and later became head coach at Boston College and University of Pennsylvania before catching that “NBA coaching bug” and becoming an NBA life-long coach himself.

I first met Coach Daly when he had a short stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980s. A 9-32 mark got him a quick exit on the coaching highway but he landed a few miles down the road from Cleveland when he was named head coach of the Detroit Pistons in 1983-84. He coached the likes of Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka to a 49-win season in his first year with the Pistons as the franchise began to build an NBA powerhouse that would eventually land ‘back-to-back” NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

Of course, many of the worldwide readers of Basketball 24/7 know Chuck Daly as the coach of the 1992 USA Basketball Dream Team. He soared onto the global stage at the Barcelona Olympics after being chosen as the head coach of that legendary group because of his honesty, integrity and class. There was not a single moment in 1992 when a player even raised an eyebrow at a decision made by Daly and the rest of the Dream Team coaching staff (Coach K, PJ Carlesimo and Lenny Wilkens were at his side).

After many an NBA Playoff game, or after many a cold refreshments at a place called Gianopolis’ in the ‘burbs of north Detroit and after many a night with the traveling band, called the 1992 Dream Team, we all had the same feeling for Chuck. And, as the years passed by and he went on to coach in New Jersey and Orlando, our friendship drifted a bit but I would remain in touch through Chuck’s trusty PR man, Dobek. There were many times, after a few refreshments and another late night, we would call Chuck on the phone, and as Mr Dobek would say (at 3 am, none the less) – “Don’t worry, he’ll be up.”

Chuck would answer on the first or second ring and we would all pass the phone around in the car while traveling long after the final buzzer of an NBA Finals game that would end after midnight and often take us to late nightspots around the NBA globe. Each and every time, Chuck would have a few wonderful words of wisdom for us, as he would ask, “Hey, is Matt doing okay? Be sure to take care of him, eh.”

That, in a nutshell, was Chuck Daly.

Chuck was always the father, always the teacher, always the spiffy dresser, always humble but, somehow, confident at the same time. I loved Chuck Daly and loved everything he stood for and still stands for. He will live on forever.

When he passed, I wrote a note to Matt and to Terry Foster at the Detroit News. It read:

Chuck Daly was a colleague, friend, father figure and full-fledged NBA confidant to an entire generation of "NBA Lifers." There will be a lot written and a lot said about his unbelievable career and his life-long dedication and his many, many contributions to the game. I will state the obvious point that I believe would be most important to Chuck, and that is this: "Chuck Daly was a damn good coach."

TL game notes and quick observations on the “pivotal” Game 5 at Boston tonight: It was another amazing night of sports in Boston, the greatest sports town in the USA. The Boston Bruins played a BIG GAME down in Carolina in a tough road ‘must win’ situation and outlasted the Hurricanes 4-2 to force the wonderful Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series. … Closer to The Hub, at the Gah-den, the Celtics trailed for damn-near the entire game and that included being on the short end of an 85-81 score at the 3:00 minute mark in the final stanza. But some heads up play and gutsy hustle by soon-to-be All-NBA star guard Rajon Rondo (six points, nine rebounds and five assists) led the Celtics to an 86-85 lead at the 30-second mark after a series of missed Boston shots but clutch offensive rebounds. When Ray Allen drained two free throws to make it 90-87 with only 6.2 seconds remaining, the Celtics faithful stood in total awe of a team that is somehow ‘willing” its way through the NBA Playoffs.

PS: The Celtics smartly fouled Magic center Dwight Howard at the 5.9 second mark to put the 60+-percent FT shooter on the line rather than risk a potential game-tying three-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis. Howard drained his first FT, but clanked the second and it bounded to “Glen “Big Baby” Davis who strolled to the other end at the 4.6 second mark to hit two more clutch Fts and to make the score 92-88 and ice the game for the hometown favorite Celtics. Game over at 10:36 (EDT) and the great fsans of Boston headed out to Causeway Street to celebrate another great night of playoffs.

We’ll have a Game 7 for the Bruins to look forward to this Thursday at the Gah-Den, while the Celtics head to Orlando to try to close out their Conference semi-final series against the magic on the road. The C’s lead their series 3-games-to-2 and will now need to buckle-down to get that tough, tough fourth win in order to gain the right to travel to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It’s well documented that Celtics main-framer, Kevin Garnett, is sidelined for what seems to be the duration of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, but many a fan is forgetting that Orlando’s best player, point guard Jameer Nelson, has been out for the season after he tore a right labrum and underwent surgery on February 19th of this year. Nelson will be out 4-6 months with the serious injury.

Terry Lyons, Contributor
A former communications and media executive at the NBA, Terry has behind-the-scenes knowledge that few others could boast. His vast experience, contacts list and knowledge of the game make him a star asset to 24/7's writing team.

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