Posts Tagged ‘Don Chaney’

Coaches Honor Fitch With Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award

Bill Fitch

In the 1980s, Bill Fitch led Boston to an NBA title.
(Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO — These days Bill Fitch gets a special kick out of tuning into postgame news conferences and hearing players say they won’t really know what happened in the game they just played until they look at the video.

That’s because Fitch was sometimes mockingly called “Captain Video” in the early part of his 25-year NBA coaching career for using videotape to analyze opponents and scout talent.

But what was once a joke became a standard and integral part of the game, making Fitch a pioneer. That, along with his 944 career wins and penchant for turning bad teams around, has earned him the 2013 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association. He received the award Tuesday in a presentation prior to Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“To be honest, I never really thought being known as Capt. Video was a bad deal,” Fitch said. “Other people could laugh and tease all they wanted. The truth is I was glad to that nobody else was doing it, because I thought it always gave our teams a big advantage.

“If you could see my closet today, it’s crammed full from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now with DVDs and I’m still doing film for different people. I still love the competition and the strategy.”

Fitch ranks eighth on the all-time win list and his 2,050 games coached is third. He is a two-time Coach of the Year winner (Cleveland in 1976 and Boston in 1980), led the Celtics to the NBA championship in 1981 and, after moving to Houston, took the Rockets to The Finals in 1986. He was also named one of the NBA’s top 10 coaches of all-time in 1996-97.

The NBCA Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award commemorates the memory of the Hall of Fame coach who won a pair of championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990 and led the 1992 USA Dream Team to the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

“I’ve always said that being a coach made me able to live a life where I never, ever felt like I had a job,” Fitch said. “Honest, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the feeling that I was never working, because I was doing something that I loved. It was about the competition all those relationships that were built.

“I guess what this means is that I’m 81 and going the wrong way. But seriously, anytime you get an honor from your peers it means a lot more. I’m humbled by it. It’s always great to be recognized by the guys you worked with or against. Coaching is the biggest fraternity there is and I’ve always felt like I’ve had more brothers than I could count.

“Chuck especially was a great friend and to get an award named after him makes me immediately think of all the experiences and stories we shared, some of them that could even be printed.” (more…)

Elvin Hayes: The Big E Took Giant Step

Like every other teenage kid who goes away to college, Elvin Hayes brought plenty of baggage. There was the usual variety that fit inside a suitcase and the kind that you carry inside your head and your heart.

“I was scared,” Hayes recalls of his early days on the University of Houston campus back in 1964. “Where I came from, blacks had been taught to hate whites and whites had been taught to hate blacks.”

Hayes had been born and raised in Rayville, tucked into the northeast corner of Louisiana, population of less than 5,000, where the horizon never went much farther than the cotton fields.

Yet here was the long, lean forward with the sweet turnaround jump shot and the voracious appetite for rebounds joining fellow freshman Don Chaney as the first African-American basketball players to suit up for coach Guy V. Lewis’ Cougars and among the first African-American athletes in the South.

Houston today is the fourth-largest city in the United States and a 21st century model of multiculturalism. But nearly a half-century ago, there were barriers that hadn’t been broken.

“I remember as a kid sitting at home watching on TV as the governor of Arkansas stood in the doorway of the school and wouldn’t let that little girl in,” Hayes said. “I remember seeing Medgar Evers being denied at Mississippi. Becoming one of those people who did something significant and symbolic wasn’t anything that ever crossed my mind.”

In fact, Hayes wanted to play his college ball at the University of Wisconsin until Lewis and assistant coach Harvey Pate came by his house for a visit.

“It wasn’t long after they got there that Coach Pate was talking to my mother about coming back another time to go out fishing with her and the deal was done,” Hayes said. “My mother said, ‘I like these people and you’re going to Houston.’ Hey, in those days in the South, your mother made all the rules and you obeyed.”

So Hayes took his brother along for support and joined Chaney, who came from downstate in Baton Rouge, to change the profile and the fate of the UH program. By the time they were done playing and were both chosen in the first round of the 1968 NBA draft, the Cougars were a national power, playing in the NCAA Tournament eight times in a space of nine seasons. The teams of Hayes and Chaney reached the Final Four twice and defeated UCLA and Lew Alcindor in the so-called Game of the Century at the Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968, the first-ever college game televised nationally.

After being picked No. 1 by the San Diego Rockets in 1968, The Big E played 16 seasons in the NBA, was a 12-time All-Star, the league scoring champion in 1969 and led the Washington Bullets to the NBA title in 1978 and was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

“None of it would have been possible without coach Lewis reaching out and making me a part of his plan and his dream,” Hayes said.

It was anything but an easy transition as Hayes and Chaney withstood withering racial slurs in the hallways of the dorms, on trips to play road games and even on their own practice floor. Yet they persevered and prevailed.

“Don had grown up in the big city and he was naturally more of a laid-back guy than I was,” Hayes said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t just as hard on him, but there were times when he’d just say, ‘Let it go, Elvin.’ “

It took a sit-down in Lewis’ office to finally set him straight.

“Coach Lewis looked me in the eye and said, ‘Elvin, I have put my career, my family, everything at risk for you. What have I done to you to deserve your anger?’ It was a conversation that changed my attitude and changed my life.

“Yeah, I think we did make a difference. I think we showed something to people. I know that 50,000 people from Houston jammed into the Astrodome that night and were completely behind us. And I know that during a time when there were racial problems and riots all over the country, we never had any of that in Houston.”

The Big E is 67 now, a father, businessman, rancher, fixture in the Houston area.

“When I finally put down my baggage,” said Hayes, “I found a home.”


History Says Lakers Play Long Odds

History says the Lakers probably had to do something to save a season that was slipping away.

History also says that in making the switch from Mike Brown to Mike D’Antoni they might just as well be expecting to hit one of those half-court shots to win a car than to be hosting a victory parade next June.

Yeah, the odds are long.

In the previous 66 years, only three in-season coaching changes have produced an immediate championship. Then again, twice it happened for the Lakers, in 1980 and 1982.

However, if the focus is a little farther down the line — and D’Antoni is the right choice — the payoff could be down the line. There have been seven different replacement coaches and eight teams that eventually claimed NBA titles.

1956-57 — Alex Hannum, St. Louis Hawks — The Hall of Famer is more popularly known for leading Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers in 1967, ending the string of Bill Russell and the Celtics at eight titles in a row. But Hannum replaced Red Holzman and interim coach Slater Martin as player/coach midway through the season. The Hawks lost to the Celtics in The Finals that year. But when he retired and went to the bench full-time, they beat Boston to win it all the following year. He was the only coach to beat Boston in the playoffs during Russell’s 13-year career.

1977-78 — Lenny Wilkens, Seattle SuperSonics — The Hall of Famer took over the reins for Bob Hopkins after the Sonics got off to a woeful 5-17 start that season. He put the spark back in the game with an 11-1 start to his regime and took the Sonics to The Finals, where they lost to the Bullets in seven games. The team featuring Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown came back to claim Seattle’s only championship by beating the Bullets for the 1979 crown.

1977-78 — Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers — Gene Shue’s talent-laden Sixers were upset by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 and then staggered out of the gate the following season with a 2-4 record. A Philly favorite as a Hall of Fame player, Cunningham got the first coaching experience of his career when he took over the controls. The Sixers with Julius Erving lost to the Bullets in the Eastern Conference finals in his first year, were beaten by the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982, but finally broke through and it all when Moses Malone led a 4-0 sweep of L.A. in 1983.

1979-80 — Paul Westhead, L.A. Lakers — First-year NBA assistant coach Paul Westhead moved into the main seat 14 games into the season after head coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious head injury in a fall from a bicycle. The Shakespearean scholar got to cap of an amazing debut season when a fellow rookie named Magic Johnson jumped center, then piled up 42 points, 15 rebound and seven assists in the Game 6 Finals clincher at Philadelphia.

1981-82 & 2005-06 — Pat Riley, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat — When Magic became disenchanted with Westhead and nudged him toward the door 11 games into the season, the Lakers plucked the former player turned broadcaster from behind the radio microphone to begin a Hall of Fame career on the bench. The untested Riley guided the Lakers to another NBA Finals win over Philadelphia, then won three more titles in L.A. in 1985, 1987 and 1988. After his cross country move took him to New York and then Miami, Riley the G.M. replaced Stan Van Gundy following an 11-10 start in 2005-06. Seven months later, Riley and Dwyane Wade for the Heat out of an 0-2 hole to beat the Mavericks in The Finals.

1991-92 — Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets — A year after he was named Coach of the Year, Don Chaney’s Rockets were stuck in a 26-26 rut and he was fired on Feb. 18. A reluctant Tomjanovich, then a team scout and assistant coach, had to be talked into taking the job. A season later he became the first coach in NBA history to take his team from the lottery to a division title in his first full season on the job. The local legend Rudy T then put enough spot-up shooters around Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to produce back-to-back championships for Houston in 1994 and 1995.

1996-97 — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs — It was 18 games into the season when G.M. Popovich pulled the rug and fired coach Bob Hill. It was a move that was considered presumptuous and unpopular in some corners of town. But all was forgiven when he took a team with David Robinson and second-year forward Tim Duncan to the championship in 1999. Since that time, he has added Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to the lineup, three more titles and the beloved and cantankerous “Pop” is almost as much a part San Antonio lore as the Alamo.