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Intensity Lives On Skiles' Magical Moments Game I'll Never Forget Career Statistics

Scott Skiles Tribute: Monday, April 17 - 7:00 pm TD Waterhouse Centre - Get Tickets

Scott Skiles: The Intensity Lives On
By Scott Wallin

Scott Skiles lived to tell – and laugh – about his infamous scrap with Shaq.

It happened at a practice in 1992 when the team was struggling and tensions were running high. Skiles was growing weary of practice interruptions resulting from friction between teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Larry Krystkowiak.

Ever the outspoken leader, Skiles approached the players with his solution: “why don’t you guys stop talking and just start fighting.”

Instead, the 7-foot-1, 300-pound Shaq turned his attention toward the 6-foot-and-change point guard and threw what Skiles describes as a “haymaker” his way. Never one to back down, Skiles wrapped his arms around Shaq and they tumbled into the bleachers.

Skiles had a sore neck for a few weeks but – all in all – said the altercation “ended up being a good thing.” “We weren’t playing very well at the time,” Skiles said. “We ended up playing pretty well afterward, so sometimes a team needs those kinds of things.

“I always joke with Shaq that I’m the only guy who ever beat him up. I know it’s not true but it’s fun to screw around with him.”

While the story serves as comedic fodder for Skiles, it shows the lengths he went to lead and motivate his team. And it also put on display his trademark intensity that he said has been with him since childhood.

“I was very, very, very upset to the point of almost being inconsolable if a Little League game got rained out,” he said. “I was always competitive and very intense. I don’t really know why. I just loved to play.”

Skiles brought that intensity to the Magic as one of 12 players selected via the 1990 expansion draft. A human floor burn in high-cut shorts, Skiles epitomized a “gritty and gutty” style of play that became synonymous with his name. He endeared himself to an enthusiastic fan base that embraced the self-proclaimed overachiever who left it all on the court.

“I’ve had many coaches over the years come up to me and say that they feel I got the most out of my ability,” said Skiles, who played in Orlando through the 1993-94 season and finished as the team’s all-time assists leader. “I take that as a big compliment. With limited ability, I don’t know what somebody else could say.

“The gritty, gutty stuff, I understand. I played more of a tough kind of game but I had no choice. That was the only way I could play in order to survive and have a career.”

Skiles’ old-school style now is on full display as coach of the Chicago Bulls. His career is following a path that he set growing up in Indiana: he would play as long as he could and then get into coaching.

His first coaching break came at a time when he least expected it. Skiles was playing his final season of basketball in Europe for the Greek team PAOK in 1996. He had gotten injured midway through the year and had his bags packed to come home. PAOK officials, however, put a stop to those plans. They called to say they were firing the coach and wanted Skiles to take his job.

“So I literally went from being a player to a coach in one day,” said Skiles, who led PAOK to a winning record despite missing three key players to injury.

He returned to the U.S. to take an assistant’s position with Phoenix and became head coach 20 games into the 1999-00 season when Danny Ainge resigned to spend more time with his family.

Skiles led Phoenix to a winning record (.595) during his three-year tenure and the Suns made the playoffs twice, including a first-round win over the defending NBA champion Spurs in 2000. He resigned 51 games into the 2001 season and stayed out of coaching until 2003 when he was hired by the Bulls.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” said Skiles, 42. “There are only 30 of these jobs so to get one as quickly as I did, there’s luck involved.”

Skiles is as humble as he is appreciative for those who had a helping hand in shaping his career as a player and coach. He credits his former head coaches in Orlando – Matt Guokas and Brian Hill – for believing in his ability and allowing him to enjoy a 10-year NBA career. Their faith helped Skiles earn the NBA’s most improved player award in 1991.

“I’m still very fond of both guys,” Skiles said. “I owe a lot to both of them. Matty was instrumental in picking me to come down there. You can make a case that I owe a good portion of my pro career to Matty putting me out there and letting me play and then Brian after that.”

Not that Skiles ever discounted the pressure that comes with being an NBA coach as a player, but he’s still learning to live with it every day. Skiles the player and Skiles the coach are cut from the same mold which means player-coach discussions include their share of in-your-face points when warranted.

Take the Bulls’ March 15 game at Milwaukee. Chicago fell behind 32-8 when Skiles had seen enough. He called a timeout, his face nearly as red as the Bulls’ road uniforms.

“You think they weren’t gonna show up?” he said minus a few colorful words. “Of course, they’re gonna show up. The question is, are you gonna show up?”

Give Skiles credit for knowing that he needs to maintain a balance between coaching and taking care of his health. An off-season beach house on Florida’s east coast helps him unwind but that’s a long way from Chicago and a season of 82 games.

“If I’m not really careful, I can overdo it,” Skiles said. “I don’t mean as far as communication with my guys but in my own preparation. I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself and getting rest. Whatever I’m involved with, I go all the way. I’m either all in or all out. This is such a fast-paced job with so many decisions to make, that I have to be careful and make sure I’m watching out for myself, too.

“If I’m not careful, I’ll end up watching (tapes of) games all day long and that’s not necessarily good.”

While Skiles now does all he can to defeat the team he once led, he has plenty of praise for the direction the Magic is heading. He is particularly complimentary of the job Co-General Manager Otis Smith is doing. He and Smith played together in Orlando and Skiles considers him “one of my all-time favorite teammates, just a great guy to play with.”

Orlando defeated Chicago when the teams last met March 28. Skiles is impressed with the new-look Magic that has overcome long odds to stay alive in the playoff chase.

“I like their team now,” Skiles said. “They move the ball, they’re sharing the ball and they hit the open man. (Dwight) Howard is on the verge of being a consistently great player and they’re trying to build around him and (Jameer) Nelson. I think they’ve made some great decisions and they’ve done a great job.”

Skiles returns to Orlando April 17 when the Bulls face the Magic. It also is a night that Skiles will be the third former player honored during the Magic’s Commitment to the Past program, following Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott.

Skiles is honored that he has been selected and he certainly doesn’t want to come off the wrong way but there is that matter of a game going on. While the team will be honoring him, he’ll be busy figuring out a way to defeat his appreciative hosts.

“It’s not that I’m not grateful but I have a game that night,” Skiles said. “It’s a little different than say me flying into (his alma mater) Michigan State to be honored for something. I have a game that looks like right now that we’re going to need to win (to qualify for the playoffs).”

It’s the expected response from a former player who coaches the same way: all business, all out. Through it all, Skiles, a father of three, keeps his career in its proper perspective, no matter how intensely he approaches it. “I realize I’m just a basketball coach,” he said. “I know an NBA game is not the most important thing happening in the world. In those two hours, it’s very, very important but I can keep that in perspective.”

And then, adding what has to come as a relief to his players, he says “I’m pretty quiet once I leave the floor.”

Scott Wallin, a freelance writer who lives in Oviedo, is a regular contributor to Magic Magazine and