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Dan Burke Reflects on Previous All-Star Games and Looks Ahead to the Next One on Sunday

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

February 13, 2014

Dan Burke has seen just about everything in his 25 seasons working in the NBA, the last 17 with the Pacers. He began his career in Portland as a video coordinator and scout, and then he moved to Indianapolis when Larry Bird brought him on staff in 1997, Bird’s first year as head coach.

As a result of the Pacers (40-12) having the best record in the Eastern Conference, coach Frank Vogel and his staff will head up the East squad at the All-Star Game on Sunday. So when the 63rd edition of NBA All-Star Weekend invades New Orleans, Burke won’t be on vacation but rather on the sidelines soaking it all in with the understanding that it’s a honor.

Burke was in New York (1998) for his first All-Star game, a great scene, he recalled. “Lively environment. It was supposed to be [Michael] Jordan’s last one.”

The East prevailed and Jordan was named Most Valuable Player. It obviously wasn’t Jordan’s last, but Burke’s next All-Star game was.

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2003 Eastern Conference All-Stars and Coaches />

Burke was in Atlanta (2003) with Isiah Thomas. The game went to double overtime, a sin for an All-Star showcase. Although it was Jordan’s finale, Kevin Garnett took home MVP honors.

“Rick Adelman was the coach for the West and at one point, he had five 7-footers in the game,” Burke recalled.

His lineup was Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. Coach Adelman looked down at the other bench with a big grin.

And Burke was in Los Angeles (2004) the following year with Rick Carlisle. He’s a staple within the Pacers’ organization, and he’s appreciated for his passion, knowledge and honesty for the game.

“A lot of guys that come in, do a good job and they work but he is special,” Vogel said last fall. “He’s got a special talent for relating to players, to connecting with players, to earning their trust immediately.”

When Burke boards a team charter flight Thursday afternoon with the rest of the coaches, along with their wives and players on board, he’ll be jetting off to help coach his fourth All-Star game.

“We go there with an attitude of just having fun,” he said. “Mostly, we’re wallflowers — sit back and watch how the guys interact.”

At his previous All-Star appearances, Burke’s two daughters tagged along with him and his wife. This year, he’s only joined by his wife, Peggy, plus all the other coaches’ significant others. Fitting, because Friday is Valentine’s Day.

“She’s talking about some chefs and some restaurants [in New Orleans], said Burke. “I don’t know what she’s talking about but I’ll let her pick. She’s never been down there so she’s excited.”

One item on the coach’s itinerary: dinner for the eight of them — for the first time this season.

“My staff is boring,” said a half-joking Vogel. “They work too much. Every time I want to have dinner with them [on the road], they are telling me how much they want to work on the next opponent and stay in and study tape.”

They will all go out Thursday night after their arrival. On Friday, associate head coach Nate McMillan will coach Team Hill at the Rising Stars Challenge. The coaches are designated as the All-Star coaches for having the best record in the conference.

Over the offseason, the Pacers hired two new assistants, McMillan and Popeye Jones. Those two not only picked up where those coaches (Brian Shaw, Jim Boylen) left off last season, but also have helped take it to another level.

“I think we all (have) pretty low egos,” Burke revealed. “We understand where we’re going. We’ll have discussions and have difference of opinions in the office but when we leave that office, we’re on the same page. None of us are going anywhere unless we win it. And once we win it, the tide raises all boats.”

Burke is a low-key coach and he has a quiet sense of humor. One has to have one with the stress that comes with this job. Coaching in the NBA that is, not the All-Star game. “Our only job is to play [Dwyane] Wade and [LeBron] James 48 minutes and Paul [George] 24,” Burke joked with Vogel this week. “Let’s get those guys tired and we’ll just get ready for the run down the stretch.”

Ultimately, All-Star games are about the stars and the coaches are more for decoration. Vogel hadn’t really thought about the game, as of Wednesday, but expects to have a few sets and have the substitutions mostly completed pregame.

“It’s all pretty lighthearted until the end, when all of a sudden there’s a winner’s share on the table and everyone starts going, ‘We’ve got to win this game,’” said Burke.

Paul George, who received the third-most votes of any player, has a game and style that fits the bright lights. Burke just hopes George is himself and relaxes when he’s out there. Big man Roy Hibbert on the other hand, recognizes that All-Star games are meant for the athletic, flashy, high-leaping players that want to run and gun. That’s not him.

More humor from Burke: “A drill we do [in practice] is a 9-second drill and you got nine seconds to get up the floor and shoot. That’s kind of what it’s going to be like for Roy. In that drill, he doesn’t like it because he can’t keep up with it.”

The game tips off from the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans at 8 p.m. EST Sunday night.

“It’s just a fun experience,” Burke said. “It’s great for the organization. It’s great recognition for our players, for our fans, for our owner, and for all the people that work for the Pacers. We’ve got to go there, represent a little bit and have some fun.”

Amongst all the All-Star talk, Burke circled back to the Pacers, the team he’s put so much into for the past three decades.

“It’s still all about winning,” he said. “Hopefully none of us are just solely here to get to the All-Star game and our pursuit is something much higher.”

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