Owner of a distinguished coaching resume and a glittering championship legacy, Jim Cleamons, one of the NBA’s veteran mentors, joined the Knickerbockers as an assistant coach on Sep. 3, 2014.
“I’m excited and encouraged with the possibility of doing something positive with this organization,” says Cleamons, currently in his 23rd season as an NBA coach. “I’m happy and pleased about the opportunity that’s present with the organization. There are opportunities that I find welcoming. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and some luck, but that’s what sports is about; trying to do your best each and every time out and trying to find a group of people who are single-minded. What I’ve tried to do my entire athletic career is to be a good worker, a good teammate; and things have worked out. I’ll try to do the same here and hopefully that formula will be successful for me.”
Cleamons, who owns a total of 10 NBA Championship rings (nine as a coach, one as a player), joined the Knicks from the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom he served as an assistant coach in 2013-14.
Jim’s NBA coaching career began with seven seasons as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls (1989-90 through 1995-96). He served for 10 years (in two different stints) with the Los Angeles Lakers, from 1999-2000 through 2003-04, and again from 2006-07 through 2010-11. He also spent two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets (2004-05 through 2005-06) as well as last season with the Bucks.
As part of Phil Jackson-led coaching staffs, Cleamons was a member of four NBA Championship teams with the Bulls (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996) and five with the Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010). Translating a championship mindset to the Knicks is an opportunity he relishes.
“The biggest challenge is just trying to figure out, with the personnel available, the understanding and appreciation that you can’t do it by yourself,” says Cleamons, 65. “And in basketball, as with any other team sport, you’ve got to have the sum of all the parts. And the parts have to be willing and understanding of each other.
You have to be hard-working, dedicated, and all the tenets that make winning possible. Giving rather than taking, sometimes.”
“You have to examine your own personal goals and philosophies and make up your mind that those around you have the same mindset that it is a goal worth sacrificing for,” Cleamons says. “And at the end of the journey, you’ll find your happiness because you know that without the sacrifices, the hard work, the camaraderie that it takes to do things as a collective group, you’re not going to achieve success.
“I tell people to this day that I’ve not taught public school or in a classroom, but that the basketball floor is indeed a classroom that I try to do my teaching within.”
In addition to his career as an assistant coach, Cleamons served for a season-and-a-half as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks (1996-97 to1997-98), and has a career NBA head coaching mark of 28-70 (.286).
Prior to joining the Bucks in 2013, Cleamons had served for one season as a head coach in the Chinese Basketball Association. He began his coaching career with assistant coaching stints at Furman (1982-83), and at his alma mater, The Ohio State University (1983-84 through 1986-87), and as head coach for two seasons at Youngstown State (1987-88 through 1988-89). In 1998-99, he coached the Chicago Condors of the now-defunct women’s American Basketball League.
The 13th overall pick in the 1971 NBA Draft, Jim enjoyed a nine-year playing career (1971-72 through 1979-80) over which he averaged 8.3 ppg over 652 games. As a rookie, he was a member of the fabled 1972 NBA Champion Lakers squad that won a League record 33 straight games under Bill Sharman. He then played five seasons in Cleveland, averaging a career-high 12.2 points and earning NBA All-Defensive second team honors for the 1975-76 “Miracle of Richfield” squad that won the Central Division title under Bill Fitch.
Cleamons signed with New York as a free agent on Oct. 10, 1977, with the Knicks sending future Hall of Famer Walt Frazier to the Cavs as compensation. He played a two-and-a-half seasons (180 games) with the Knicks, averaging 6.5 points for the 1977-78 squad that included Phil Jackson and earned a Playoff berth under Head Coach Willis Reed. On Oct. 18, 1979 at Detroit - the fourth game of the season - he earned an additional honor by becoming the first Knick in history to record a three-point field goal in regular season play.
“I got the honor of playing in New York, and the team that we had - and I’ll tell anyone to this day - was one of the most talented teams in the League, in 1977-78,” he remembers. “It was a good team, but we didn’t win. I have very good memories of that team, but they aren’t quite what I’d like them to be because we didn’t live up to the billing.”
Born on Sep. 13, 1949 in Lincolnton, NC, Jim averaged 18.5 ppg over three seasons at Ohio State, earning a degree in education. A member of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2008, Cleamons and his wife Cheryl are proud parents of daughters Imani and Rose.