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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coach Daly ... We are so proud we knew ye.

Veteran NBA writer Jan Hubbard did this story for CBS It brought a smile or two to my face, so I thought I would post it and pass it along. Jan did a hell of a job covering the NBA and the one and only Dream Team. I am sure he wrote this with a very heavy heart:

By Jan Hubbard, as a special to CBS Sports:

Before the global explosion of interest in professional basketball, there were some wonderfully modest moments. For two writers who regularly covered the NBA, one of those occurred in 1988 before an NBA Finals game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons.

Chuck Daly was standing alone in a corridor outside the locker room at the Fabulous Forum, the Lakers' home arena then. It was a scene that would not be possible today because a coach in a hallway would be surrounded by a horde of cameras, sideline reporters, voice recorders and a celebrity or two who cunningly managed to acquire a press pass.

The previous night, several writers decided that it would be appropriate to invite a few of the Pistons to the media hospitality suite because it was the first time Daly's team had reached the Finals. At one point during the Finals, in fact, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman accepted an invitation to compete in a pop-a-shot match against several writers, so it was not uncommon for players to mingle with the media.

The only player who accepted the invitation to the hospitality suite, however, was 7-5 Chuck Nevitt, who had played 63 minutes the entire season. For Nevitt, it made perfect sense to join the party. It wasn't like he needed the rest to sit on the bench the next night. And he was flattered by the media attention.

The next day, however, some of the Pistons assistant coaches were livid at the media, saying that the phone calls had disrupted the players' rest time and that it could have an effect on the series, which, of course, was absurd.

But the writers wanted to make sure that Daly, who was very popular with the media, was not angry, so they walked up to him and asked if an apology was needed. Daly started laughing.

"They're big boys," he said of the players. "If they don't want phone calls, they can unplug their phones. What's the difference if you call them or fans do? I've got bigger things to worry about."

That was Chuck Daly, who died in Jupiter, Fla., Saturday at age 78 after a bout with pancreatic cancer.

Chuck Daly: 1930-2009 | Berger: Gold standard | Freeman: Daly's legacy

Daly was the essence of a man who didn't sweat the non-essential stuff, such as a phone call to a player. That's not to say he did not have a few irrational worries. Quite the opposite. Even on sunny days, Daly was capable of spotting a dark cloud.

This was a man whose team had a 3-0 lead in the 1989 NBA Finals. The Pistons were playing a Lakers' team without Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, each of whom was sidelined with an injury, yet Daly blistered his team at halftime because he was worried about a Lakers miracle.

He was known as the "Prince of Pessimism." He never had a problem with that title.

Daly was unique among coaches and leaves behind a fascinating legacy. During his 14 years as a head coach, his teams won 638 games. That makes him only the 19th winningest coach in NBA history. Only eight of the top 18, however, are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Daly's college teams won 152 games and those are considered when voting for the Hall of Fame. But even 790 total victories would be less than the number of NBA wins by 13 coaches, and six of those are not in the Hall of Fame.

Daly's Pistons won two titles, but Bill Fitch and Dick Motta, each of whom has more victories than Daly, also won titles and are not in the Hall of Fame.

Yet Daly's credentials are questioned by no one.

Daly also coached one of the most notorious teams in NBA history. The Pistons were a team of celebrated thugs and, before it became politically incorrect, they were promoted by the NBA as the "Bad Boys" and revered for their roughness.

But Daly always projected class and dignity. He dressed impeccably, was exceedingly cooperative, shrugged his shoulders at some of the criticism and had a pristine reputation.

"Chuck was above it all," said Nets executive Rod Thorn, who worked at the NBA from 1986-2000. "Chuck and Joe Dumars were always above the fray and Chuck loved it. He had Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Ricky Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and the whole crew and they were the 'Bad Boys.' But then you had Chuck and Joe Dumars and they were above it all."

Thorn was part of the committee that selected Daly as the first coach to direct a team of NBA players in the Olympics in 1992. Daly, again, distinguished himself with his handling of not only the team but also of all controversy.

It began with the exclusion of Thomas from the team. In Detroit, there was also a feeling that Dumars and Rodman were worthy of Olympic spots. Yet despite the heated rivalry between the Pistons and Bulls, Michael Jordan welcomed Daly as the head coach and Daly handled the disappointment of his players so expertly that Thomas had Daly give his introduction speech when Thomas was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

He was a master of quelling controversy and deflecting criticism.

He was also competitive.

When the Dream Team trained in Monte Carlo before the Olympics, Daly made the practices short and the leisure time long. Players had plenty of time off and several of them regularly visited the golf course.

On one day, Daly played in a foursome with golf fanatic Jordan and beat him by a stroke. Early the next morning, Jordan called Daly and when the coach didn't answer, Jordan went and knocked on Daly's door and demanded a rematch.

Daly happily announced to the media that he'd beat Jordan, and was retiring. Jordan claimed later that he forced Daly back on the golf course and "beat him bad." Daly smiled and never admitted defeat.

While the Dream Team experience was profound, it was also pressurized. Despite winning the first six games of the 1992 Olympics by an average of 44.5 points, Daly fretted that Lithuania -- with world-class players in center Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis -- would be capable of an upset.

"At halftime, we were up about 30 and everybody gave him a hard time," Thorn said. "But the great thing about Chuck was that he could laugh at himself. And not many people can."

Daly, who was born in St. Marys, Pa., attributed some of his pessimism to growing up during the Depression era. He said that also led to another of his personality quirks, which Thorn describes by saying, "Let's just say his reputation for a lack of spending followed him."

In short, Daly was so cheap that he even made fun of himself.

Matt Dobek has been head of Pistons public relations for 25 years and when Daly was coach and wanted to go out for dinner, he always made sure Dobek was with him to pay.

"He never picked up a check," Dobek said. "We could charge everything to the team. But that was Chuck. He didn't like spending money."

When Daly was hired by the Nets in 1992, he received a three-year contract worth $4 million but he still insisted on a free condo and then got a deal for his expensive suits from Hugo Boss.

"Chuck had a deal for everything," Thorn said. "And I mean everything. If you had to pay for it, Chuck didn't want it."

Chuck Daly was an accomplished, amusing, complex man who made significant and lasting contributions to the game of basketball. To the very end, he embraced the sport he loved and the people who were a part of it.

"He refused to give up his cell phone," Dobek said. "And he had to fight the doctors and everyone else to keep it. Two days before he died, he was making and receiving phone calls and he had the oxygen mask on and everything. You say to him, 'Chuck, what the hell are you doing?' And all he said is, 'People want to talk. What am I supposed to do?'"

That was Chuck Daly, a man who added so much to the game and will be missed by everyone who knew him because, very simply, being around Chuck Daly was a rich experience.


Adding some memories from Detroit News columnist Terry Foster:

Restaurant owner John Ginopolis was one of Chuck Daly's best friends. He roomed with him during the 1988 NBA Finals. Daly frequently came to his Farmington Hills restaurant.

Saturday's news of Daly's death after a battle with pancreatic cancer was tough on Ginopolis.

"You never thought anything would happen to him," Ginopolis said. "You never think of Daly getting sick. He looked so good before this happened. I can't believe it."

Ginopolis' sentiments were shared throughout the NBA. Daly had an air of invincibility about him; as an NBA coach he spoke well, dressed well, and carried himself with dignity and class.

But he was human, just like everybody else. That was evident during a road trip to Portland. A curtain accidently opened to a training room and there was Daly, face-down on a table getting a back massage. It was a routine for Daly, who had chronic back pain but didn't want anybody to know about the pain that sometimes caused him to lean over when he walked.

Daly looked upset when his secret was blown. The curtain closed quickly and Daly's massage continued.

Daly always appeared younger than his age. He had the best hair on the team and relished his image of being a cool dude.

Other memories that stand out:

• The Pistons had just played a tough game against the Celtics at the old Boston Garden. During a timeout, Daly and forward Adrian Dantley got into the most horrific argument I've seen during many years of covering the Pistons and the NBA. The argument went on and on. Daly and Dantley screamed and cursed within inches of one another.

Later that night, the Pistons remained at their hotel because of a flight curfew at Logan Airport. I ran into Daly in the hotel bar and he was still livid.

"We've got to get rid of him," Daly said.

Daly's words were much spicier, but you get the point.

I was stunned because players and coaches often kept private matters from the media. I promised not to write about our meeting then. But it was interesting to see the anger still boiling in his soul.

He believed Dantley slowed the offense and caused the four other players to stand around while Dantley went through his routine of posting up his man and trying to set up a slow drive to the hoop.

A few weeks later Dantley was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre. Everybody assumed point guard Isiah Thomas orchestrated the trade. Maybe he did push for the trade, but Daly was pushing, as well.

• A fine suit was Daly's trademark, and he got many of them from a Southfield clothier. But he had his favorite places to shop in New York, Seattle and Chicago.

Once Daly became so agitated with a call during a game that he slipped and fell to the floor at The Palace. His assistants came over to help him up, but he shook them off. He would help himself up.

People saw the replay nationwide and everybody got a good laugh. Here is what people don't know: Daly split his pants when he fell.

I could see it from press row. Daly was careful how he walked during the rest of the half and the rip was sewed at halftime.

• Daly was good with the media, but he sometimes became agitated with us and walked away from news conferences. Once Dennis Rodman was acting up and stormed out of the dressing room following a game.

Reporters had to make a decision: Follow Rodman or stick around and listen to Daly's news conference outside the dressing room?

Many of us chose to follow Rodman, who didn't have much to say as he drove off. We ran back to try to catch Daly. As soon as he saw us he cut off the news conference with the reporters who remained behind.

"Hey, I was here," he said as he walked out.

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