AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – When the dynasty that was to be crumbled in Orlando, Shaquille O’Neal bolting as a free agent and Penny Hardaway suffering recurring knee injuries, Pat Williams knew where to turn for a franchise in need of an instant credibility boost: Chuck Daly.
It was the third time their paths would cross, dating to 1966 when Williams was a young hustler, working both as the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies farm team in Spartanburg, S.C., and the radio voice of Wake Forest basketball. One night legendary Duke coach Vic Bubas was on his way to scout his ACC rival, new assistant coach Chuck Daly in tow, when they got stuck in traffic. So they listened to the Wake Forest game on radio and, the next day, Bubas called Williams to ask if he’d fill in when he could calling Duke games, as well.
Bubas was to the East Coast what John Wooden was to the West at that time, so Williams, of course, said yes.
Fast forward a few years and now Williams and Daly are both in Philadelphia, Williams working his way up the ranks in the 76ers front office and Daly as head coach at Penn. When Daly was ready to jump to the NBA, Williams was in a position of real influence, When the 76ers named Billy Cunningham their head coach in November of 1977, and the Kangaroo Kid wanted to hire Daly as his assistant, Williams was left to negotiate the contract.
“And we gave him, I think, a $35,000 deal,” Williams chuckles today. “Which Chuck never stopped reminded me of. I said, ‘Well, Chuck, I just helped build the foundation.’”
The monument to Daly’s coaching career that foundation today supports – Hall of Fame induction, a legacy of unparalleled ego management built as coach of the Dream Team, his number retired in the rafters of The Palace to commemorate the two NBA titles won by the Bad Boys Pistons – spurred Williams, a founder and current senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, to write a book on Daly’s life, “Daly Wisdom: Life Lessons from Dream Team Coach and Hall of Famer Chuck Daly.”
Williams will be at The Palace on Thursday, when the Pistons host the Denver Nuggets, and he’ll be autographing copies of his book, which was built on a simple premise: Take all of the pearls of wisdom that Daly would drop on a, well, daily basis – “Never trust happiness,” “Get past mad,” and “A pessimist is an optimist with experience” – and examines them through the eyes of the many people he influenced and inspired throughout a basketball career that spanned every level of the sport.
There are 52 of them – one for every week of the year – and Williams says they add up to “a leadership manual.”
“They’re 52 neat little insights into Chuck. It’s a leadership book. It coaches business people, but it’s really became a book filled with tons of wisdom that anyone, I think, would find interesting and insightful and a reflection of the wisdom of Chuck’s remarkable life.”
Example: Chuckism No. 15 is “Different team; same problems.” In it, Rick Carlisle, a Daly assistant in New Jersey, where he next coached after leaving the Pistons, remembers Daly uttering that line to him. The lesson to be taken away: The grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. Life, and the job, is what you make of it.
Or Chuckism No. 23, the one about trusting happiness.
“Never let your guard down,” is what Joe Dumars told Williams he took it to mean. “You’ve got to prove yourself every day. Things could be good today, but that could completely change by tomorrow. Don’t get too comfortable with success.”
Williams agreed to write the book when a young publisher who came to befriend Daly approached him about the project last spring when Daly’s grim diagnosis with pancreatic cancer became public. Daly, diagnosed in February, died in May.
“I speak a great deal in the corporate world on leadership and teamwork,” Williams said, “and I ended up quoting Chuck Daly as much as I would quote John Wooden or Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant. And I thought, wow, this guy from the coal mines of Pennsylvania, who I met in North Carolina in 1966 and hired to his first NBA coaching job, and I’m quoting him, a Hall of Famer, and I’m quoting him as much as I’m quoting these legends. And then it dawned on me: Chuck’s a legend.”
And now there’s a book stuffed with the wisdom of a legend – a book that would look great stuffing a Christmas stocking, perhaps.