MARC IAVARONI (1985-89)
Former Jazzman Marc Iavaroni played four seasons with the Jazz as the team began to emerge as power in the Western Conference in the mid to late ‘80s. Now he’s working his way up the coaching ranks as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns.
In 1986, as the Jazz prepared to play the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden in mid-February, players loading the team bus from the hotel began to notice that not every member of the traveling party was on board. As the bus started to take off many began to ask where center Jeff Wilkins was.
Hours earlier he had been traded to the San Antonio Spurs, just before the trade deadline, for Jeff Cook and Marc Iavaroni. The trade marked the first swap the team had made in three years. Cook (who arrived injured) would only spend the remainder of the ‘85-86 campaign with the Jazz, while Iavaroni would go on to play four seasons with Utah during the team’s rise in the Western Conference.
“I was a role player who just tried to play good defense and rebound,” said Iavaroni. “I was a ball mover, if I had an open shot, I was going to take it. But for the most part, I was getting other people open and getting them the ball, and having a lot of fun running the floor.”
Iavaroni’s best season with the Jazz came in the ‘87-88 season, when he averaged 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds. The team finished a then franchise-best 47-35 and set records for home wins while selling out 39 of 41 games at the Salt Palace. John Stockton and Karl Malone also began to make their mark in the league. Stockton would break the NBA’s single-season assist record while Malone was voted to start in the All-Star Game.
The team qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight season, and after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, the Jazz would take on the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in one of the most memorable playoff series in franchise history. Utah pushed L.A. to seven games before falling in the deciding game.
“That was a really special series because I think anytime you’re an underdog and you’re going against a champion and you have a chance to beat them - it’s special,” said Iavaroni. “The closest thing I can compare that series to is winning the ACC Tournament in 1976 with Virginia. We were one of the lower seeds and won. That tournament and the Utah series with the Lakers will always be very, very special to me.”
Iavaroni spent one more season with the Jazz before heading to Europe to finish his career in the same place it began. After college, the Virginia alum spent three seasons honing his skills against better competition. “(Playing in Europe) allowed me to mature as a player and as a person,” said Iavaroni. “It matured me from a point in college where I wasn’t really a high scorer, and over in Europe they expect you to score the ball and for that reason you better deal well with pressure.”
Iavaroni concluded his professional career alongside current Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni in Milan before retiring in 1991. He then moved on to Bowling Green, where he began a new chapter in his life as an assistant coach, spending two seasons on the sidelines with the Falcons. Four years later, he was back in the NBA working under Mike Fratello in Cleveland as an assistant coach, concentrating his efforts on big man development. Iavaroni remained in Cleveland for two seasons before taking a similar position with the Miami Heat. Then in the 2002 offseason, the Phoenix Suns pursued Iavaroni.
“(The Suns) called Pat Riley and asked for permission to talk to me,” said Iavaroni. “I had a couple months left on my contract and Pat was very gracious in assisting me to have an opportunity to listen to what the Suns were offering. I interviewed and I told Pat I really liked the situation in Phoenix and I was hoping he’d give me his blessing, and he did. He always wants the best for his people.”
Ironically, D’Antoni had joined the Suns coaching staff one month earlier. By December of 2003, D’Antoni was named head coach after Phoenix dismissed Frank Johnson. Iavaroni became his lead his assistant, a transition that was smooth since the two had been working together on the same bench for the previous 17 months.
“Working with him as assistants I realized I really liked what he was talking about,” said Iavaroni. “It’s pretty easy to like somebody when you believe in what they’re doing and you like them as a person. It made it quite easy for me to be his first assistant and to really accept his values.”
And with the phenomenal success the Suns have had since D’Antoni and Iavaroni took command of the team, it seems to only be a matter of time before the former Jazzman becomes a head coach himself in the league. Along the way he’s learned from some of the best coaches in basketball including Pete Newell, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan. Iavaroni knows what has made them successful in their careers and he hopes to use the same principles as his progresses.
“They are all great communicators and they know what they believe and they want to make sure you know it too,” said Iavaroni. “And although they’ll be flexible because the players are on the floor and they’re not, they’ve been straight about their communication from day one and they believe in it so much that they don’t want you to get off track and start thinking there’s another way. They believe in their way and their way has worked.”
Iavaroni may also have developed an eye for great point guards that will help him in the future. The New York native has the rare distinction of both playing with and coaching two of the best point guards in NBA history. Iavaroni spent four seasons with John Stockton and now coaches two-time MVP Steve Nash, two players he seems similarities in.
“They both have a lot of drive and they both are very clever,” said Iavaroni. “They always seem to stay a step ahead of you. You may get them on one occasion or maybe two but they file that away and they’re going to get you on the next time. You’re not going to fool them very often.”
“Technically they both have great vision and they both are very courageous. Neither is afraid to take big shots and they always think they will make them. There’s a difference between people who are just going to take that shot and those who really believe they are going to make it.”