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Romance Showed D’Antoni’s Competitive Edge



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Mike and Laurel D'Antoni met in Italy in 1984.
Quick courtship in Italy landed coach his future wife
Romance Showed D’Antoni’s Competitive Edge

By Jerry Brown
East Valley Tribune
Oct. 4, 2006

Laurel (Leibel) D’Antoni remembers the fall day in 1984 that changed her life as if it were yesterday. A successful model on her first trip to Europe, she was standing on a Milan street corner when she bumped into a girlfriend and her Italian League basketball player/boyfriend, Wally Walker.

“I was standing in front of the Benetton store waiting for the No. 54 bus. Just before it came, I spotted Mary and Wally walking down the street,” she said. “We talked and they invited me out for pizza. They said they would bring some friends.”

Walker, now the general manager of the Seattle Super-Sonics, invited Mike D’Antoni and Russ Schoene, two of his teammates from the Milan team.

“To be honest, we thought Russ and Laurel might hit it off because they were about the same age,” Walker said. “Mike was older and was dating at the time. But he likes pizza.”


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Walker admits his matchmaking skills were poor, although Walker said D’Antoni had a distinct advantage over Schoene. “Mike drove both Russ and Laurel home that night. Laurel’s hotel was about five minutes from Mike’s place, but he drove about 30 minutes out of his way to take Russ home first.

“That gives you an idea of what kind of competitor we’re talking about here.”

Mike used the extra time to invite Laurel to a Milan basketball game, and she accepted. “I’m thinking, what, a pickup game at the Y or something? Cool,” she said. “Then he takes me to this huge arena and there are 18,000 people screaming for him. He claims he dunked the ball for me that night, but I didn’t see it.”

Laurel was supposed to be in Italy for a few weeks. She never left. Within 10 days, the couple was making plans to be married within the month.

To help steady the nerves of some frazzled parents, the couple waited almost two years — after trips back to America to meet and get comfortable with the relatives could be arranged. They finally tied the knot in June 1986.

“We did it for them, but we knew what we wanted,” she said.

COPYRIGHT 2005, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.