Delmer “Del” Harris has a new orange blazer to don, Naismith Orange to be specific. The Indiana native has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
This wasn’t the plan; Del’s passion was to be a preacher. Coaching basketball was merely a means to make some money before pursuing seminary school. And then what appeared at the time to be an inconsequential decision, changed everything — not just for Del, for basketball.
His path was never about a quest for success or greatness. In fact, success and greatness were the result of his commitment to the fundamentals.
He earned his immortality in the hall of hoops because he didn’t believe in cutting corners; he didn’t understand the idea of the “easy way out.” It was about the details for Del; it was about the work.
Before his 14 seasons in the NBA, Del started off coaching boys' and girls’ basketball at the junior high school level. He graduated to high school games and then made the jump to college where he coached at Earlham in Richmond, Indiana for nine seasons, with a record of 175-70, and at age 27.
Del has always been a natural writer and a worldly thinker. During his time at Earlham, he wrote books about coaching basketball. Even before a professional coaching stint, he had an aptitude for the game and a willingness to share his vision. He went on to coach in Puerto Rico, Canada, China, and the Dominican Republican. He coached more than 400 FIBA games — all before the now wide-spread cognizance for the global game. And his writing, mentioned above, was translated and distributed in Puerto Rico and in various countries across the Asian continent.
In the US, his first professional run was in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the Utah Stars before they folded in 1975. He transitioned to the NBA as an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets, starting their 1976-77 season. He became head coach for Houston in 1979-80. He had a similar trajectory with the Milwaukee Bucks, coming on as an assistant coach and then graduating to head coach. He also served as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the team.
From 1994-1999, Del was Head Coach for the Lakers. He was the last person to coach Magic Johnson and the first person to coach Kobe Bryant. In the 1994-95 season, he brought the team back to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus and won NBA Coach of the Year. And in his four seasons with Los Angeles, the team achieved more wins year over year, with 48, 53, 56, and 61. In a 2022 interview with Jim Hill for CBS Los Angeles, Del expressed, “I’m really thankful to have been a Laker ... there’s something special … it’s just different.”
After his time with the Lakers, He carried on as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, and New Jersey Nets. In 2020, he was the recipient of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, selected by the National Basketball Coaches Association. The committee is made up of some of the most revered coaches and executives in the history of the game including Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich.
Now, at 85 years old, after six decades devoted to coaching basketball, he continues to dedicate himself to the sport and serves as Vice President of the Texas Legends, the NBA G League affiliate of the Mavs.
He may not have seen it coming, but as much as basketball became a part of Del’s DNA, Del became a part of basketball’s DNA. Here’s to a disciple of the game, a Laker, a legend, a Hall of Famer.