Howard Eisley (1995-2000, 2004-05)
By Matt Sanchez - UtahJazz.com
Howard Eisley was the consummate backup point guard. You could count on him to give starter and hall-of-famer, John Stockton, his scheduled breather in the first and third quarters. He took care of the ball, made good decisions and did what he was told. He didn't demand more playing time, as young players often do. He knew his role and worked hard to keep it. As a player, fans knew exactly what they were getting. As a person, fans had no idea who he was.
He was quiet, stayed far from the limelight, and resisted talking about himself. Eisley was so far entrenched in doing whatever he could to help his team win that he didn't care about being on magazine covers or smiling with a Pepsi in his hand.
All of the above remains true today.
Eisley first came to the Jazz as a free agent after being waived by two teams in 1995. The seemingly unwanted second-round pick got another shot and turned himself into one of the best backup point guards in the league. He was an important piece during the "glory years" and helped the Jazz make two NBA championship runs.
Of course, you already knew all of this. What is he up to today?
Eisley currently resides in Westchester, New York with his wife of 12 years and their two children. Though he resists talking about his personal life, he revels about how much he loves fatherhood and that his girl and boy (ten and seven years old) are extremely active and are picking up sports naturally.
"I would love for them to play sports," he said. "I'm trying not to push it on them, though, and am hoping they pick it up on their own. That way it'll be easier for me to step in and help teach."
He enjoys being around his family more than anything but still has a desire to be around the game he loves. In 2010, he became a player development coach for the Los Angeles Clippers. It's a similar role Jeff Hornacek held with the Jazz before he became a full-time assistant.
"As a player, I didn't think I wanted to coach, but as my career came to a close, I missed the camaraderie and the guys and I needed something to quench my competitive nature," he said. "With so many young guys coming in the league, I thought I could help not only with their basketball careers but also their lives."
His primary role with the Clippers is to teach and counsel rookies and young players about the basketball world. He notes that teaching "youngsters" basketball skills is fun and keeps him sharp but he finds great fulfillment in teaching them life skills.
Eisley knows the value of coaching and gives full credit to the coaches and mentors who taught him the game. He recalls not knowing what to do or how to react in certain situations, but his coaches kept him focused on working hard and achieving goals.
"I was fortunate to have very great mentors and coaches," he said. "We (coaches) should want to give back to others and teach someone. If you're given the opportunity and you can help someone then you should. If it wasn't for others then I would have never learned the game. It's a cycle and I'm thankful to be a part of it."
Eisley believes his style of coaching stems directly from what he learned while he played for the Jazz. He admits that he came into a great situation with the Jazz and the team had very strong leaders at that time. He thinks his playing for the Jazz was meant to be and couldn't think of a better place to learn the game.
"I feel very fortunate to have played for Coach Sloan and his staff," he said. "What I learned from the Jazz organization is if you show up and put in the work, then you will see results and you will get better. They developed me as a player and a man. Things I talk about today to young players are the same things they taught me. They preached to always play hard and respect the game. Respect everything about it."
When he signed his first 10-day contract with the Jazz he remembers an uphill climb.
Imagine being a rookie point guard, simply trying to make an NBA roster. You want to stand out, make good decisions and impress the powers that be. You tuck your shirt in, tighten the Converses and try to remember what got you to this point. At your first practice you get on the court and staring you in the face is John Stockton.
Eisley vividly remembers going up against the hall-of-famer for the first time. Even though Stockton wanted to wear down and get the better of his opponent, he was constantly teaching and encouraging. That's the way it would be for the next six years.
"I don't know if I would have had the longevity if it wasn't for John Stockton," he said. "It was great for me to have the opportunity to learn from him and play against him. He was the greatest at doing what he does and to learn from him was priceless. He was my leader and I owe a lot of what I was able to accomplish to him."
The Detroit native looks back at his time in Salt Lake as the best time of his career. He will never forget one thing: the fans.
"I had the opportunity to play a lot of places and Jazz fans are second to none, that is the honest truth," he said. "The way they came out every night and always supported the players. Utah is a great place. I am very grateful and lucky to have played for the Jazz."
Eisley is brand new in the coaching world and isn't thinking ahead or setting lofty goals for himself. When asked if he would like to be a head coach one day, he humbly laughed and said it would be great. He made it clear that his primary focus is to help his players develop on and off the court.
"I'm in the infancy of coaching and am fortunate to be able to do what I do. If I can learn and progress in the profession that would be great," he said. "I just want to help people better their lives and I have a great platform to do that."
Eisley never thought about playing professional basketball. He knew he had to work hard, learn the game and perhaps he could earn a scholarship playing college ball somewhere. Getting ahead of oneself isn't wise and he's never allowed his mind to wander there.
Now, more than 30 years after he started playing the game, he's doing it all over again. Learning. Working. Perfecting his craft. Never thinking too far ahead. Howard Eisley never dreamed he could make it as an NBA basketball player, and he did. He has never dreamed about making it as an NBA head coach, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did it.