Sharfman: Like Father, Like Son

By Noah Sharfman

This story originally ran in the February 11, 2011 Orlando Magic game night program as the Magic faced off against the New Orleans Hornets. At that time, Michael Malone, son of Magic assistant coach Brendan Malone, was an assistant on the Hornets coaching staff. Since then, Michael has accepted a new job, joining the Golden State Warriors as Mark Jackson’s lead assistant. Brendan Malone is returning to the Magic for his fifth season in 2011.

Originally Published February 11, 2011

ORLANDO -- Basketball is more than a game. Like all other sports, basketball is able to transcend the typical reaches of a game while fostering connections shared by generations. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were, and are, transcendent figures in the NBA capable of impacting the world in ways greater than sport itself. For the Malones, the game of basketball and its transcendent power, has connected and bonded a family in ways nothing else could.

For over 50 years Orlando Magic Assistant Coach Brendan Malone, a dedicated husband and father of six children, has made a career coaching the game of basketball. Across all levels of the game, from high school to the NBA, Malone has lived the game, taught the game and loved the game. So, too, has his youngest son Michael, now an assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets. But the path leading him to his current job with the Hornets was a circuitous journey dotted with many stops along the way.

“My earliest memories are in a gym growing up, whether it was at camp in the summer time or when (my father) was a high school coach at Power Memorial in New York City going to the games with my two older brothers,” Michael said. “I got great memories from when he was coaching at Syracuse (University) being at the games in the Carrier Dome against great teams like Georgetown with Patrick Ewing, St. John’s with Chris Mullins, the heyday of the Big East. Even when he went into the NBA going over to the Garden, I used to love it.”

As a kid, Michael grew up around the game of basketball. He played throughout high school and college but he learned to love the game while spending time with his father.

“His first two years with the Knicks under Hubie Brown, I’d go over to the games with my father,” Michael said. “Sometimes I would shoot around in Madison Square Garden all by myself, which for a kid from Queens, who was raised in New York, being in The Garden all by yourself is amazing. My father would always tell me, ‘for a kid who is playing basketball all you need is a ball and an imagination.’”

According to his father, Michael Malone wanted to explore a career in law enforcement, particularly as a member of the secret service. Having passed the necessary tests to join the Michigan State Police Department, Michael was called into duty, not as a protector of the law, but as a coach of the game.

In the early 90s, Michael began his coaching career at Oakland University in Michigan where he filled a variety of roles essential to the daily operations of a basketball program. In 1995, Malone got his first taste of coaching full time as an assistant coach at Providence College. Michael spent seven years in the college ranks coaching at Providence, the University of Virginia and Manhattan College before getting his first opportunity in the NBA.

Michael’s first NBA coaching opportunity came with the New York Knicks, a team he grew up watching his father coach. The younger Malone worked his way up the ranks in New York starting as a coaching associate in the summer of 2001, before being promoted to assistant coach in 2003. Following his time with the Knicks, Malone joined Mike Brown’s coaching staff in Cleveland and helped guide the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, experiencing success early in his NBA tenure.

Like his father, Michael experienced success as a coach at the NBA level. With a role model in the elder Malone, Michael followed his father’s lead and successfully built a career in the NBA, but not without a word of caution.

“My father actually tried to talk me out of becoming a coach,” Michael explained. “Here’s a guy that his whole life had been in coaching, from CYO, high school, college and the NBA, and he knew that it was a tough profession. It doesn’t have any security in it. He would say to me, ‘Mike you are a smart guy, you got your education, go get a good job.’”

A coach through and through, the elder Malone experienced firsthand the struggles that accompany life as an NBA coach. But the question remains, why did a man who dedicated his entire life to doing one job discourage his children from following in his footsteps?

“I discouraged (Michael) from coaching because I didn’t think he had the passion to be a coach,” Brendan said. “I never thought he would go into coaching and I discouraged him because I thought it was an insecure profession. In his earlier years, I didn’t think he had the passion to be a coach. When (Michael) had the job at Manhattan College, he was living at home with me and when he was coming home at 11 o’clock at night, I realized that he did have that passion.”

Not only does Michael share a passion for coaching with his father, the two men have become incredibly well-respected in their profession. Their individual success has help guide teams to the brink of championship, an accomplishment many coaches can only wish to achieve.

“What has come to me unsolicited from people that have worked with him in New York and in Cleveland, is that they all think that he is very good. That he has the communications skills, that he has a demeanor, the work ethic and the knowledge to become a head coach in this league,” Brendan continued. “That’s nice to hear but that is all him.”

“The greatest feeling for me is knowing that when I call him up after a game and hearing how excited he is that (the Hornets) are winning and that I’m having success because he is a big, big fan of the New Orleans Hornets,” Michael said. “That makes me feel real special because he takes so much pride in how I’m doing and I know he wants to see me do so well.”

Today, both Brendan and Michael are the top assistant coaches with their respective teams. Brendan joined the Magic prior to the 2007-08 season, the first under Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy. While Michael is currently in his first season with the New Orleans Hornets as the top assistant to Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams. For Brendan and Michael, talking on the phone has replaced nightly family dinners. While their conversations are more limited during the season, the two make time to talk about life, family and of course, basketball.

“We do talk a lot, we’ll talk about family obviously, but at the end of the day, he’s a coach, I’m a coach; the conversation will always come back to basketball at some point,” Michael said. “It’s a little different this year because I’m Western Conference and he’s Eastern. I call him up and he’s giving me insights on Miami, Boston, and I’ve given him insights on teams we’ve played.”

With time comes perspective and as is the case with Brendan Malone, time has brought the perspective of watching his son achieve success as a coach in the NBA.

“When I got into coaching (my father) said, ‘it’s a tough job, but my last piece of advice for you is don’t get married; it’s really hard on a family. Your mother is a special lady, she raised you six kids, there aren’t many people like her,’” Michael said. “So I got married and my dad says ‘you don’t listen to a word I say, so I don’t have any more advice for you.’”

The elder Malone agrees.

“Every time I told him not to do something,” Brendan said, “he did it and disregarded my opinion and he is having a nice career in the NBA.”

Everyone has heard the saying ‘like father, like son,’ and one expects a father and son to share many similar characteristics. If you were looking for an example that brings truth to the saying, you would have to look no further than Brendan and Michael Malone. The two men are both coaches in the NBA and are spitting images of one another. They speak in the same tone, with the same rhythm, with the same diction. They are, of course, father and son.