Daily Nugget: Michael Malone’s friendship with Magic head coach Steve Clifford
Wednesday’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic pit two head coaches against one another in Michael Malone and Steve Clifford. However, there is much more history between the two, as both coaches have shared eerily similar career paths and a unique friendship off-the-court.
Both coaches worked their way up from assistant positions in the college ranks before making the leap to the NBA in the early 2000s. The two coaches joined forces on the New York Knicks coaching staff for several seasons, which provided them with an opportunity to catch up and reconnect.
Malone really grew to appreciate the opportunity he had to learn from some of the best coaches in the game during those years in New York. “Being around coaches like that, who were looking out for me and helping me along, that was tremendous,” Malone told the Denver Post back in 2017. “It was a great way to come into the NBA and learn from great people and great coaches, and Cliff was a big part of that, obviously.”
Clifford also appreciated the opportunity to strengthen his relationship with Malone and was impressed with The Queens, NY native’s work ethic and mindset. “We worked together with the Knicks and it gave us a good chance to reconnect and he is just a very bright, talented guy, hard worker,” Clifford recently told Nuggets.com. “He obviously has a great basketball background and we’ve been friends for a long time and I’m not surprised at what a great job he’s done there (in Denver).”
Malone and Clifford first met at Brendan Malone’s basketball camp in Maine, as Clifford was a coach and ended up with Malone on his team on several occasions.
“First of all, I’ve known Mike since I think he was in sixth grade,” Clifford said. “I used to work for his dad’s basketball camp up in Maine and a lot of times he would be on my team. So, we’ve known each other for a long time.”
The two quickly developed a friendship on-and-off the court which has carried through their years coaching in the college ranks and as assistants in the NBA.
In another unique aspect of their professional relationship, Malone and Clifford both became NBA head coaches for the first time in the 2013-14 season, with Clifford being named the leading man for the Charlotte Hornets while Malone took over the reins for the Sacramento Kings.
Both coaches are now in their second stops in the league and are coming off successful seasons in which their teams made the playoffs in their respective conferences.