College - North Carolina
With a wealth of experience - as player and coach - on both the collegiate and NBA levels, Phil Ford knows when a game of basketball can become a thing of beauty.
Sometimes it starts on the lockerroom wall.
“I have a philosophy of how I think basketball should be played,” says Ford, now in his second season on the Knicks coaching staff. “Number one, you should play together, the most important thing is teamwork. I think it’s very important to have a fundamentally sound basketball team. I do believe that fundamentals will beat athleticism nine out of ten times. I think kids ought to have fun playing, I think basketball should always be fun. The day that it’s not fun anymore, it’s when their level of play declines, and you always want players to get better.
“There’s a saying I like to write on the board: Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together, Have Fun.”
The 1979 NBA Rookie of the Year, Ford is currently in his third League season as an assistant coach. Following his NBA coaching debut - on the staff that helped lead the 2004-05 Detroit Pistons to the NBA Finals - Phil joined the Knickerbockers on Sep. 27, 2005.
“Being a coach in New York is extremely exciting,” says Ford, 50. “We weren’t thrilled with our season last year, but one thing you can say is that our fans never departed us. It was just amazing that most of our games were sold out. The fans stayed right in there the entire season and that’s something I’m very proud of.
“The fans are so hungry. The support we were given was just something that we can never thank the fans enough for being that supportive of us. I think our fans want a championship almost as bad as we do.”
Overall, the 2006-07 season is Ford’s 15th as a coach (third in the NBA). He logged a 12-year stint as an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, his alma mater (1988-89 through 1999-2000), under Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge. As a Tar Heel assistant, Ford was part of six NCAA Final Four appearances, six NCAA Regional titles and five Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles, and was a member of the Tar Heels staff during their national championship season of 1992-93.
“Phil is great for the point guards because he has a way of seeing the game (while) facing the basket, and also directing and seeing nine people in front of him at all times,” says President, Basketball Operations and Head Coach Isiah Thomas. “His knowledge, his experiences, his impressions as a player at North Carolina (under) Dean Smith’s philosophy (are) similar to Bob Knight’s philosophy. Plus, he’s a very hard-working coach. So the way we think the game and see the game is very similar.”
Ford enjoyed a standout seven-year NBA career (1978-79 through 1984-85), averaging 11.6 points in 482 games with the Kings, Nets, Bucks and Rockets. The second overall pick (following Mychal Thompson) in the 1978 NBA Draft, he averaged 15.9 points for Kansas City to earn NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1979, as well as selection to the All-Rookie and All-NBA Second Teams. Two years later, he scored a career-high 17.5 points as the Kings drove to the 1981 Western Conference Finals.
During his honor-laden playing career at North Carolina, Ford earned All-ACC First Team accolades in 1976, 1977 and 1978 and was named to the All-ACC Tournament First Team in 1975, 1976 and 1977 and to the Second Team in 1978. A First Team All-American in 1976, 1977 and 1978 and the winner of the John Wooden Award in 1978, he was named ACC Player of the Year in 1977 and 1978.
Ford was also a member of the Gold medal-winning United States squad at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, averaging 11.3 points during the Games. As a Tar Heel, Phil played for two seasons alongside Dave Hanners, who he would later join on the coaching staffs of North Carolina, the Pistons and Knicks.
“He’s one of my best friends on the face of the earth,” says Ford of Hanners. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. He’s my daughter’s godfather, for goodness sake, so I think everybody knows what good friends we are. He’s an extremely bright coach, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He would be a success as a banker, as a businessman, as an entrepreneur. Whatever he decided to do, he’d be successful because he’s just that bright.
“At the same time, I’ve also made great friendships with Isiah, George Glymph, Mark Aguirre and Herb Williams. It’s been a thrill to work with them and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them better and becoming good friends with them.”
Ford was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, and was voted one of the ACC’s Top 50 all-time male athletes during the conference’s Golden Anniversary celebration in 2003. Phil graduated from North Carolina in 1978 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. From 2002-04, he served as assistant vice president of the Rams Club, raising funds for the North Carolina athletic program.
Born on Feb. 9, 1956 in Rocky Mount, NC, Ford and his wife Traci have been married for 18 years and have a daughter Tyler (16) and a son Mitchell (14). The Ford family makes their off-season home in North Carolina.