An occasional series to feature the behind-the-scenes work of some unsung NBA staffers. The “Day in the Life” project was conceived by Michael H. Goldberg, longtime executive director of the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA) who passed away in January 2017.
Dallas Mavericks, Special assistant to head coach Rick Carlisle
NBA.com: First, what is a “special assistant to the head coach?” It sounds like a title Dwight Schrute from “The Office” might have had. Did this job exist or was it created for you?
Mike Weinar: There was someone who had the same title as me, but the job was never basketball-oriented before I was hired. It means whatever Rick needs on a day-to-day basis. Whether that’s in the office or on the court or in a coaches meeting. I’m going to take care of whatever he needs to maximize his time and our ability to win games.
NBA.com: Here’s some of what Carlisle said about you: “He’s a relentless worker. He’s a guy who pushes himself to get better every single minute of every single day. He’s gained a lot of additional responsibility as time has gone on. I depend on him for a lot of different things. And he’s a very good friend, too, which is probably the most important thing to me.” So walk us through a typical day.
MW: Like everyone else in this business, we don’t have weekdays and weekends. We have game days, practice days and travel days. On a game day, you’re going to have the morning shootaround so I get to the office early to update any loose ends as far as playbook or practice plan. Coach Carlisle will have a short meeting of coaches to cover what the morning’s plan is. In Dallas, there’s an “early group” where they bring in the younger players a half hour before the older guys. In film session, coach will present the opponent, and then it will be whoever did the opponent prep — one of the assistant coaches or me — to run it.
Before I leave for lunch, I’ll check with coach. That’s usually the time, where if he has any extra things going on with his schedule, when I try to help him where I can.
“Whether you’re winning or losing shouldn’t really affect your work hours. It’s whether or not you’re prepared and doing the right things for your team.”
Mike Weinar of the Dallas Mavericks
NBA.com: You live close enough in Dallas to get home for lunch?
MW: It’s about 20 minutes so that’s not bad. My wife [Noelle] and our son [Gavin, 2] understand the schedule. Noelle and I were high-school sweethearts and she happily moved from Florida where our families are. Sometimes my son wants to go to every basketball game with ‘Dada,’ but he can’t. He enjoys saying “Go Mavs!” and “Where’s Dirk?”
NBA.com: Then it’s back to the arena?
MW: We’ll finalize film work or play calls. Then we’ll have pregame workouts where we divide up the guys. At home, we’ll use the main court and the practice court. By 35 [minutes before tipoff] on the clock usually, coach will talk and then whoever prepped [for the specific opponent] that game will present the final film. After that, we’re tipping it up and seeing what happens.
During a game, if it’s my night [opponent], I’m very in tune to what the other team is running offensively. So if Dirk [Nowitzki] sees a play called by their head coach, he can relay it to me and I can let him know what’s coming on the court. Sometimes we’re surprised. Most teams have their base package that we’re familiar with. But these guys are head coaches for a reason, so coming out of timeouts, you have to be prepared for about anything.
The way we see it, if we can give our players a cheat sheet without requiring them to download the entire playbook, we’ve done our jobs.
NBA.com: Carlisle hired you soon after he got to Dallas for the 2008-09 season. So you’ve been with the Mavericks as champs and as a last-place team. What’s the difference?
MW: Whether you’re winning or losing shouldn’t really affect your work hours. It’s whether or not you’re prepared and doing the right things for your team.
NBA.com: How at age 24 did you land what, for a lot of NBA fans, would be considered a dream job?
MW: At [the University of] Florida, I was a student manager and then a graduate assistant under Billy Donovan. I got my undergraduate [sports science] and graduate [sports management] degrees there. I started out wiping the floors and doing laundry, and progressed up to helping with the prep when we were winning two [NCAA] championships. I’ve been lucky and blessed.
NBA.com: Opportunistic, too. Donovan, now at Oklahoma City, told us you volunteered to pick up Carlisle at the airport when he visited Gainesville and the Gators during his off year between jobs and that you two clicked. Donovan said: “He must have picked Rick up three or four times. When Rick got hired by Dallas, he called me up and said he wanted to hire Mike. It’s a great lesson I told guys in college all the time. If you work hard and do the right things, you can never tell who’s watching and how it might make a difference.”
MW: Look, I’m 32 years old and I’ve got two national championships and [an NBA] championship so far. I’ve been extremely blessed to be in this situation because of my mentors. There’s a saying that I’ve kind of followed and passed on to some younger colleagues of mine: Success leaves footprints. I’ll be honest, I’m stepping right in ‘em as much as I can.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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