When the Charlotte Bobcats were deciding on who would be chosen to direct the team’s first basketball operations effort, club Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ed Tapscott searched for someone with a wide range of experience, professionalism, patience, great teaching and communication skills and a team player who had success in building winning organizations both on and off the court.
Enter Bernie Bickerstaff.
With nearly 30 years in the NBA, Bickerstaff has a history of leadership and is a natural choice to guide the Bobcats as both general manager and head coach in the expansion club’s first season. He served 10 seasons as a NBA head coach for three different teams, was president and general manager for seven seasons and spent 12 years as an assistant coach.
Among his many accomplishments, Bickerstaff has stood out as a leader who has built winning organizations from the ground up.
As president and general manager of the Denver Nuggets from 1990-97, he directed a major turnaround as the club improved from 20 to 42 wins in three seasons. Denver made history in the 1994 Playoffs by becoming the first eighth-seeded team to defeat a top seed when the Nuggets beat Seattle in the first round. As the Nuggets’ lead executive, Bickerstaff selected four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo with the fourth overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, 2000 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Rodney Rogers (8th pick in ‘93), Jalen Rose (13th pick in ‘94) and Antonio McDyess (2nd overall pick came in draft-day trade with Clippers in ‘95).
The 1986-87 NBA Coach of the Year, Bickerstaff has an NBA coaching record of 338-348 (.493) with Seattle, Denver and Washington. His win total ranks 34th on the league’s all-time victories list and he guided teams to playoffs five times in his 10 seasons.
His first NBA head coaching opportunity came in 1985 with Seattle and he led the Sonics to a 202-208 (.493) record with playoff appearances in three of his five seasons. Bickerstaff led the Sonics to the 1987 Western Conference Finals in his second season as the seventh-seeded Sonics upset second-seeded Dallas and then Houston before falling to the eventual NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. During his time there the Sonics drafted Gary Payton (2nd pick in ‘90), Shawn Kemp (17th pick in ‘89), Xavier McDaniel (4th pick in ‘85) and Nate McMillan (30th pick in ‘86).
Bickerstaff went to Denver to become president and general manager where the organization underwent a youth movement after having one of the league’s oldest teams. With draft picks Mutombo, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (1993 NBA Most Improved Award) and 1993 All-Rookie First Team honoree LaPhonso Ellis, the Nuggets began a turnaround that later resulted in a 22-win improvement over a three-year period.
During his executive tenure in Denver, he added head coach
responsibilities from 1994-96 and posted a 59-68 (.465)
record in one full season and two partial campaigns, taking
the Nuggets to the playoffs in 1994-95 with wins in 20
of the final 32 games. Denver qualified for the playoffs
in the season’s final game with a win over Sacramento
to finish ahead of the Kings for the final postseason berth.
After coaching the 1995-96 season, Bickerstaff hired a
new coach 13 games into the 1996-97 season and returned
to the role of general manager only.
Washington was where his NBA career began in 1973 when he was the league’s youngest assistant coach. During a 12-year tenure as an assistant he helped the Bullets to the 1978 NBA World Championship, the NBA Finals in 1975, 1978 and 1979, 10 playoff berths and a franchise-record 60 wins in 1974-75. Two of his players were Hall of Famers, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, and he helped Gene Shue gain NBA Coach of the Year honors in 1981-82.
Bickerstaff served as part owner, general manager and head coach of the International Basketball League’s St. Louis Swarm beginning in 1999. His teams won IBL titles in 2000 and 2001, had the league’s best regular season record both seasons and finished a combined 90-24 in the two seasons. Bickerstaff was the league’s Coach of the Year after each season.
Most recently Bickerstaff engineered the quick transition of the Charlotte Sting following Robert L. Johnson’s purchase of the franchise and operational transfer from the WNBA in January 2003. The Sting finished second in the Eastern Conference and qualified for the 2003 WNBA playoffs.
Bickerstaff's coaching career began at his alma mater, the University of San Diego, where he started as an assistant coach in 1968-69. He was elevated to head coach a year later and had a 55-49 (.529) record in four years, finishing with a 19-9 season in 1972-73. In 1995, Bickerstaff was inducted into the University of San Diego's Hall of Fame.
Off the court, he was a television and radio analyst with the Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, Sporting News Radio and NBA.com. Bickerstaff also served as a coaching consultant for the Harlem Globetrotters. His hometown, Benham, Kentucky, named a street – Bernard Bickerstaff Boulevard – in his honor.
Born November 2, 1944, he is married to Eugenia. Bickerstaff
is the father of five children and six grandchildren.
- lady cats