Hollins a Graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
ORLANDO - To understand why new Nets’ head coach Lionel Hollins speaks so often about toughness and discipline, we need to go back to his formative days in Las Vegas.
The ads for Sin City are enticing: “What happens here, stays here.”
Not for Hollins. What happened there tested him, shaped him, fortified him, and, ultimately, stayed with him.
Lionel Eugene Hollins grew up without a father. He lost his mother, Barbara, to kidney disease when he was 13.
He remembers who and what he was as a teenager and a young man: hot-tempered and quick to fight – even with teammates.
If not for the guidance of his grandmother, Margaret, and two male basketball influences – his recreation league coach Bill Evans and his junior college coach Doug Allred - Hollins wouldn’t have an NBA championship ring, wouldn’t be the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and wouldn’t be a man who believes he is obligated to pay it back.
“I came from a single-family home actually raised by my grandmother,’’ Hollins told BrooklynNets.com. “And my coaches were my surrogate fathers.”
Evans wouldn’t allow his players to use the envy or anger fueled by their circumstance as excuses to cross the line when the team traveled from the tough north side of Vegas to play teams in nicer neighborhoods.
Allred, his coach at Dixie Junior College in Utah, tossed Hollins out of practice on a regular basis. But he also sat at Hollins’s bedside after his tempestuous guard had a tonsillectomy, and he arranged dental work for Hollins when it was needed.
“They were the ones that kept me out of trouble, were tough on me, gave me discipline, gave me guidance and I just think it’s important to me, from that legacy, to basically give back and to help these young men who come in.’’
Hollins, 60, comes to Brooklyn with the reputation of being “old school,” which he considers a misnomer, if he considers it at all.
“I don’t know what old school is,’’ said Hollins. “My upbringing is you got to do this, do that and you got to come in on the bottom, work your way up and you respect the people above you. You respect what you’re trying to do.
“In our case, respect the game. Respect the people that have played before you, the legacy that allows you to have a lifestyle that you have.’’
These are inspiring beliefs, words that might be more befitting a motivational speaker or a youth group counselor.
But Hollins is here to win games, and ultimately, win titles. How do those concepts of giving back and maturation aid in that endeavor?
“I think it really helps from the perspective of, if you have higher character, and if you have a more mature view of what life is, you’re not caught up in, ‘Well, I didn’t get enough shots today. Well, I didn’t shoot the ball well today.’
“It’s not about that. You just go out and compete and do as well as you can.
“My motto is we play hard, we compete, we give it all our best. Some nights it’s not good enough. It’s O.K. If you left it out there and you lose, you can go home and sleep.’’
His first week on the job was one of sleep deprivation for Hollins, who flew to Orlando on Thursday and coached the Nets in their final Orlando Pro Summer League game, a 101-75 loss to the Houston Rockets.
He said he hit the ground running, pushed, no doubt, by the burning memory of how his last NBA head-coaching gig ended.
After leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals in 2013, the team opted not to retain him. The franchise was focusing more on analytics.
“When he was the spear that led the Portland Trail Blazers to the title in 1977, I didn’t hear anything about analytics,’’ said Gary Jackson, a former Arizona State teammate of Hollins who grew up in Brooklyn and played at Franklin K. Lane High School.
“And when he coached Memphis to the Western Conference finals, I didn’t hear anything about analytics. Lionel is a very, very staunch believer in what he believes.’’
Hollins believes there’s a place in the game for statistical analysis but coaches that excelled at connecting with players - Lenny Wilkens, Jack Ramsay, Billy Cunningham, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Cotton Fitzsimmons - shaped his professional philosophy.
“All straight to the point guys,’’ Hollins said. “You know we’re going to work; we’re going to have fun, but we’re going work. There’s no thrills, no dash. It’s just, ‘Do your job.’ ’’
This is a job Hollins is going to fight for. He knows the trend in the NBA is to hire younger men, some with no head coaching experience. If he doesn’t win in Brooklyn, there might not be another chance for him to prove his style can prevail.
Hollins is familiar with this role of fighting for his turf. Jackson said one word always comes to mind when he thinks of his former teammate: tenacious.
“I remember our coach used to say, ‘Fight over the top of the pick,’’’ said Jackson. “Lionel always wanted to fight through the pick.’’
Jackson said he knows Hollins didn’t have it easy growing up. He won’t speculate if that’s the origin of the edge with which Hollins played, lives and coaches.
Hollins said Evans would lay down the law when his rec league teams would travel.
“You didn’t take anything that didn’t belong to you,’’ Hollins said. “And you didn’t say anything that you shouldn’t say. Or you could walk home.’’
Allred, who convinced Hollins to play juco ball, also was the disciplinarian to Margaret’s unwavering love and adoration.
“He was my father,’’ Hollins said. “He did everything – kicked me out of practice a lot. I used to be really hot-tempered and I’d get into fights with my teammates.’’
The 2014-15 Nets’ team that Brooklyn fans will see play in Barclays Center will have a very different look and disposition than last season’s.
Gone are Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce via free agency. Center Brook Lopez is expected to be back after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot. Mason Plumlee could have an expanded role.
Hollins had breakfast with Lopez Friday morning in Orlando. Thus began the process of Hollins putting his stamp on the Nets.
“I was just telling Brook this morning, ‘You know, you can be a nice guy but when you get on the court, you got to be a little nasty and have an edge and compete,’’ Hollins said on Friday. “That’s what I did. I took everything personally.’’
He still is.