Bob MacKinnon: Leaving It All Behind To Try And Move Ahead

by Stuart Winchester,

It’s the only life he’s ever known. And the only life he ever wants to know.

Bob MacKinnon grew up in coaching, as his father, Bob MacKinnon Sr. traveled from the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis to the NBA’s Buffalo Braves to the New Jersey Nets. He’s coached for more than 25 years himself, at notable hoops schools like George Washington University, Notre Dame, and the University of North Carolina. He even did a stint as head coach of the NCAA Division III U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. For the past four years, he’s been the assistant director of the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer camps. He has four hoops-crazed sons ranging in age from 4 to 15. And he lives, appropriately enough for a person whose life revolves around basketball, in: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Bob MacKinnon is enjoying a successful season with the Colorado 14ers.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
“My dad told me to do what you love,” MacKinnon said on day three of the NBA Development League Showcase in Orem, Utah. “He said that when you stop loving it, and it’s work, get out of it.”

It must not feel like work yet, because MacKinnon is still coaching, this time as the first-year head coach of the NBA Development League’s Colorado 14ers. While MacKinnon admits that it is difficult to be based in Broomfield, Colo., far from his family in North Carolina, and traveling all over the West for games, he’s nonetheless thrilled at the opportunity. He is also pragmatic, good humored, and thoughtful, all assets when dealing with the constantly-shifting realities of NBA D-League rosters.

“There are two main ingredients that you need in a D-League coach’s DNA: patience and flexibility,” he said with a smile, recalling two instances in the previous week in which he had to drastically alter game plans in a short time because players were called up to the NBA.

But MacKinnon loves the unique dynamic of life as an NBA D-League coach: the opportunity to work with young players, the interaction with the community, and the basketball talks with the league coach’s consultant.

His experience is invaluable in bringing perspective and tempering the expectations of his players even as he encourages their development. “The NBA is not looking for a guy to come up and be a great scorer – they already have that guy. What they’re looking for is a guy who can fill a role and help them win.” He teaches guys to play hard, to do the little things, and that the moment that they are in is the most important moment of all.

Perhaps most important, MacKinnon teaches his players the considerable responsibility that comes alongside their celebrity. “We have visited or will visit 15 schools to do reading programs. We do free youth basketball clinics each month for anyone from grade one to 12. We go out to local high school games.” He is trying to put the 14ers at the forefront of Broomfield’s cultural landscape. He runs 5K races in 14ers gear. He took the whole team on a float in the Broomfield Days Parade.

It’s not difficult to decipher where MacKinnon gets his values and work ethic. “Any NBA coach who was around will tell you the kind of person my dad was. If I can be half the man and half the coach, I’d be happy.”

One character trait that MacKinnon probably learned from his father is determination. In 27 years of coaching, he’s constantly been working to get to the next level. “You have to take it one step at a time,” he said. “When I first started coaching, I thought you just moved up the ladder. I thought I would be a head coach by 32. But everyone’s in the same place as you. Everyone’s trying to get ahead. Sometimes you get breaks, and sometimes you don’t.”

Right now, though, he’s focused on the job he has. He loves their cooperative spirit and their work ethic, but he thinks they’re underestimated. “I think the people in these D-League communities who don’t see these top NBA prospects are missing out.”

Read The First Six Editions Of A Day In The Life:

A Day In The Life Volume One: Sioux Falls Skyforce Owners
A Day In The Life Volume Two: Kevin Carroll
A Day In The Life Volume Three: Make Way For Brent Petway
A Day In The Life Volume Four: Tulsa's Ryan Humphrey
A Day In The Life Volume Five: Coaching Consultant Bob Hill
A Day In The Life Volume Six: Dakota Wizards' Staff