Q&A: Rick Adelman Approaching 1,000 Wins

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Q&A: Rick Adelman Nears 1,000 Wins

Editor’s Note: Wolves coach Rick Adelman addressed the media this week regarding his career, his pursuit of 1,000 wins and what all of this means to him. Adelman began his head coaching career mid-season in 1989 with the Portland Trail Blazers and has been to two NBA Finals (1990 and 1992), coached five different franchises and has become one of the most respected coaches in the game. When he wins his 1,000th game, he will be the eighth coach in league history to reach that milestone.

When Kansas City cut you in ‘75, did you have any idea where your life was going to go?

Yeah, I was going to go back home. When I got cut in ‘75, like I said before, I had worked my tail off that summer. I thought I had a good chance to be on the team, and when it didn’t work out, I knew that it was just circumstance. They needed big guards on that team, and they had Tiny (Nate Archibald) playing 40 minutes a game. So I knew when they cut me, I thought I had a couple chances to be picked up by other teams. A couple teams said, “Can you come in and try out?” I just said, I’ve been doing this for seven years and if that’s not good enough, then forget it. I had to make a decision, and that was it. I wasn’t going to keep hanging on. I had my Master’s, I was ready to move on. I didn’t want to, but I had seen guys hang on and try every year. I wasn’t going to do that.

Did you know you were going to be a coach?

Yeah, I had always wanted to coach teams. I thought it was going to be high school. I found out that I had lost years in coaching high school. By that I mean I had played seven years, and when I had got done playing, I didn’t have the experience. Other guys were already teaching or coaching for six years. When I tried to get interviews, I didn’t have the experience. I just played professional basketball.

That didn’t supersede the experience?

Not back then, it didn’t. When high schools were looking for guys to hire, and no teaching experience, too. I got really lucky when I took the job in Oregon, that was a junior college job. Because I had a Master’s they were able to hire me and put me where they wanted because it was an academic Master’s. I got lucky there, I knew some people there.

Were those your connections with the Blazers?

No, Larry Steele, who I was really good friends with. There’s an old coach there at Linfield College, Ted Wilson, who was there for years. A terrific guy. He actually contacted me and told me that the job was open. We were going up there actually for a vacation and so I just interviewed. They hired me. It was just circumstance.

So when you left playing, you never envisioned being an NBA coach?

No, never even thought about that. That was the furthest thing from my mind.

What do you think the odds are that when you go to interview for your first assistant job, the two guys who are finalists go on to win 1,000 games?

Yeah, I never thought of it, but that was pretty amazing. I give Jack Ramsay all the credit in the world for that. I didn’t know it. I talked to him once when they had an opening, just to see what it took to get there. When he talked to me the first time, I just felt like it wasn’t going to happen. And then Jimmy Lynam got the Clippers job, and I called Jack. I didn’t know it, but for two years he was following our team down there. He was following us, talking to people, and he gave me an interview. He hired me. I don’t know. When I heard George [Karl] was the other guy, I thought there’s not much likelihood I was going to get it. But he gave me a chance. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

Do you get here without him?

No, no. To be an assistant coach with Jack Ramsay was about as good as it gets. But I also learned about the business, because I thought there was no way I’d ever have to worry about him getting fired. Then three years later, he got fired in a really bad circumstance. I found out it really is a business. We didn’t know if we were going to have another job after he got fired, fortunately Mike Schuler kept me on, but he was terrific to watch how he did things and how he worked and the respect he had around the league. I was just really lucky.

Do you look back on just how long that is? How many moves you had to make, sacrifices your family had to make?

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a real trip. A real trip.

Did you play for Dick Motta? (with Jerry Sloan)

Yeah, I was there a year and a half.

Did some of the things he taught you still stick with you today?

What we do is somewhat of a differ from his offense. Not only Dick but Phil Johnson in Kansas City, they ran the same stuff but they ran with a lot of different people, different types of teams. I learned a lot about that. It was a great offense, you know, so I took that. I’m still amazed that Dick Motta isn’t in the Hall of Fame. It amazes me, but who knows why.

Was 1,000 wins ever a goal?

No. But one was (laughs). I got the team in the middle of the season, and I was just trying to get one win.

Do you remember that first win?

Yeah, my first game we lost to Seattle in overtime, I remember that. Then we went on our road trip and I remember Clyde Drexler getting his nose broken and not being able to play, which really did not help. I think it was in Miami if I’m not sure. I just remember the players telling me, “just relax, we’re going to win the game” and I was just trying to get a win.

Some of those guys endorsed you to keep the job full time. Do you remember that?

Yes, you’ve got to remember when I went to Portland, my first year as an assistant Clyde was a rookie. Right after that, Terry came and Kevin Duckworth came. When I took over the team, we had a good team. We had a good record. But for whatever reason, things went south, and when I got it I was just trying to survive. I knew all those young guys, I worked with them. We finished the season, got to the playoffs and got swept by the Lakers. But the players, I got along well with. They spoke out on my behalf. I give Paul Allen all the credit, he didn’t have to do that. He could have gone out and got another person, but he let me have it. You pick up a Buck Williams and a Cliff Robinson along with the other guys we had, and we suddenly became a finals team. It’s just good fortune.

Was that the very next year?

Yeah, getting Buck Williams was the turning point. Then drafting Cliff Robinson in the second round suddenly gave us two really good people to go with what we had. We just took off.

Of all those wins, any really stand out? Or do you remember the losses more?

I can’t pinpoint any of them, but there’s a lot of them. It’s hard to look back on. The regular season, I still say the 22-game winning streak was incredible. We had a lot of big wins. You think about now and then, but there are so many games that it’s hard to really think about. Coming back and beating the Lakers from 20 down at their place and beating them by 10, games like that you remember.

Has anyone told you to get a special blazer or get a secret handshake or something like that?

(Laughs) No, no, I haven’t talked to anyone about this. This has been a pretty tough year. I’m trying to get to the next win. Then we’ll worry about it.

Did you ever think if this team was healthy enough earlier in the season, we’d be past the point of talking about 1,000?

Yes. I thought there was no doubt we’d be getting there. I really did. But the way things happened, it makes you realize that life’s not always easy or fair. Things happen, and you have to learn to roll with in and adjust. These guys, I really believe that these guys have busted their tail all year long. Last year we did, we caved in at the end of the year. I don’t see that in this group. You ask them to do that, and I think that’s how you have to approach it, too. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t come, it’s nobody’s fault. Hopefully we can finish the year on a positive note. We already got one win in April, so now we are hoping to break the record (media laughs). A different record.

Did you have to get Terry (Porter) a fruit basket or something? Because one or two of those wins go on your record.

They do, but some of those losses go on mine, too (media laughs)

Golden State, does that mean much to you? That’s one of the toughest stretches of your career.

It was a situation... in this business, you never know what’s coming around the corner when you take a job. I say it all the time, I learned a lot in those two years at Golden State. I learned you have to be yourself; we made some deals my first year there where if we hadn’t made them, we would have been in the playoffs. We did it anyway, and it cost us. The next year, we just had a bad team. A really bad team. It was really tough, because it was hard to win games. We did have (Latrell) Sprewell who was a really good player, but that’s it. When it was over with, I just learned a lot and I learned a lot about people there. I learned about what you have to do to yourself. I did some things that I probably wouldn’t have done, but I was still a young coach. I would have never traded Tim Hardaway, I would have never done a lot of things at that time even though we weren’t a very good team as far as getting along with each other. But I would have stayed with it, I realized talent wins a lot more than not having talent.

Did you ever worry about wanting to continue coaching after Golden State?

Oh yeah, I wanted to keep coaching. But I was ready to move on. I was ready to take a college job. I was looking at colleges and actually had one. Just when I was making my decision, the Sacramento thing came up. It sours you a little bit, and I didn’t want to keep moving, but I’ve been very fortunate. Things broke my way again, I got a job in Sacramento and who knew when that was going to come together like it did.

What school was that?

I don’t really want to say.

Going through the Golden State experience, did that make you better able to coach guys like Ron Artest?

I think so. I think you learn how to deal with people a lot better. I was listening to a lot of people on what I should do, and not listening to myself. I always got along with players, and there were a couple things that happened there that I wish I would have done things differently. As I moved on, I learned from that. I think every experience you have, whether it’s good or bad, has to help you. This hasn’t been easy, either, but it’s been a good experience. That was not a good experience.

How many players in your career have you said “I can’t coach this guy”?

Not really, I haven’t thought about that. Sometimes you don’t get along, you don’t like the way they play, you don’t like a lot of things, but I just know you have to deal with it. You’re given who you have, and you don’t get to choose them like you do in college. You have to find a way, find a way to get through to the guy.

Did you like coaching a guy like Ron Artest? He’s driven a lot of people nuts.

I like Ron. He’s a lot of fun, but he was a handful. A good player. I think it’s one of those things where he came to us... again, the owners made that trade. They wanted him. We got rid of a guy that I was really close to and I really liked in Peja (Stojaković). But, looking back on it, it probably was a good deal. Peja was still a good player, but you learn that it’s time to move on. When Ron came, I had to deal with it. I couldn’t change it, the decision was made.

Was Jordan the toughest guy you had to game plan for?

Jordan? Ah... yeah, maybe a perimeter person. But Shaq was a handful. You couldn’t officiate the way he played, and it was hard to deal with him. He was such a force. The way he played, the way the game was called, he was really good at doing what he did. But Jordan, yeah, Jordan had that competitive fire where if you beat him once, you weren’t going to beat him again the next time. I remember that every time we played them in the playoffs or the Finals. We actually lost to them the first game—we got killed—then we beat them the second game at their place. He came out and had a huge game in the third game. We beat them in the fourth, then he had a bigger game in the fifth game. The one that disappoints you is the sixth game where he really didn’t have that good of a game, and they beat us. He just always rose to the occasion. He took the challenge on both ends of the court.

You said you have to be yourself. When you were younger, did you learn that you didn’t have to yell or throw chairs?

I had a temper, too, but I learned that I didn’t like to be coached like that. I didn’t like the intimidation factor. You can teach and you can correct or you can find a way to get through to a guy without having to do that. The guys who did it, everyone has their own way, but I didn’t like it. I wasn’t going to do that. If I did raise my voice or get upset, then they remembered it a lot more than if you did it all the time. That’s one thing I did learn. That’s why I give my assistants a lot of leeway. I want them to hear different voices.

I like to take guys aside and find a way to get through to them. I think it’s a game of mistakes; basketball is a game of mistakes. The team or player that makes the least amount and learns from their mistakes, usually they’re better off for it. I know when I played, if I made a mistake, do you think you really had to tell me? If I did something wrong on the court, I pretty much knew it right off the bat. I knew I was going to be talked to, but I didn’t like the intimidation factor.

Do you know what a “player’s coach” is? They say you’re one of them.

Ah, I don’t know. You don’t get hit by a guy? I don’t know. I know it’s a player’s league, and you better understand that. It’s your job to get the players to respond in a positive way. I say all the time, if you put the team in a position to succeed, they’re going to respond to that. Maybe that’s what a player’s coach is... they feel like they’re getting somewhere and like they have some credibility. Like Ron, you talk about Ron, I tell everyone when I met with Chris Webber it was the same thing. He had problems in Washington, and I don’t know what happened with him in Washington. I don’t know what happened with Ron in Indiana, except for the one incident. But as far as coach-player relationship, that has nothing to do with me. It’s him and I from the first day forward. I think players like that, they’re not prejudged. Let’s just see what they do when they get on the court. How they respond with you, I think that’s the crucial part of it.

For you, it’s important to not get too low with losses...

Yeah, but I do. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you that.

It’s hard to resist that?

She’s the one who really needs to get to this figure (media laughs), because she deserves it.

Is she going to be there when it happens?

I don’t know, we’ll see.

How is she doing?

She’s doing okay, she’s stable right now. I hope she’s there, but like I said, what year is that going to be? (media laughs) I don’t take anything for granted.

I think you’re taking too much of the April history into account here.

Well you guys taught me that, I didn’t believe it until last year. I was relieved to win the one [Monday against Boston].

So if she is well enough, she will be there?

Well she’s been at the games lately, she’s been coming to the games. She’s doing fine, we just have a doctor’s appointment in April and we’ll find out. It’s been tough on her.

Just finding which medication works?

That’s all, that’s pretty much it. Make sure something doesn’t happen again, but we won’t do that until after the season is over. She’s getting around fine, and she comes to the games. We’ll see whatever happens in the next nine games.

Will you sit down and decide whether you’re going to do this again next year? Or do you just assume you are?

What I said before, I’m asking these guys to finish this year off and don’t give in to anything. That was disturbing last year to watch the group we had just cave in. They didn’t really care about it, and I don’t want this group to do that. When that time comes for anybody, you’re going to know it and you’re going to sit down. But right now is not really the time to talk about that. I’m more concerned about this situation, her situation, let’s get through this time frame and then we can deal with things after that.

Are those two wins wearing on you?

No, it’s just been such an up-and-down year. I thought it was going to be not that hard. But then I found out it’s real hard. I just try to take it each game. And that sounds so cliché, but I think that’s how you have to approach it. You have to get these guys to understand that you have a job to do no matter what the record is. The next game is important that you show you’re getting better. My situation this year, I think that affected me. That affected the way I approach things for a while... we’re not practicing as much or doing all of that, but I’m also finding out that these guys have responded to it. Having late shootarounds, stuff like that, they seem to have responded to it. We’re just trying to finish it off on a positive nature, and hopefully we’ll get some wins. I hope.

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