In Honour of Chuck Daly
There’s a very good reason why yours truly has a great deal of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for Kelly Dwyer, a talented writer who just happens to dwell within the NBA game:
Chuck Daly passes away
Confidence. Security. Trust and faith in the game you took the time to learn about, inside-out. That comes from experience, yes, because you know Daly had tons of that. From high school to college to the pros to the international stage. But he also had the character to follow through as he saw fit, and a love for the game that had still had him throwing towels on the floor a hundred times a year.
That’s his legacy. The legacy that told him to move Penny Hardaway — “the next Magic Johnson” — out of the point guard slot, so that a former college punter and minor league veteran could handle the ball. The result of that? The Magic go from a .500 team to one winning nearly 2/3rds of their games, and Darrell Armstrong (notes) (the former punter) goes from the 12th man to one of the NBA’s best point guards.
And the legacy didn’t always result in pretty things. At the height of the Showtime Era, when teams were running with wild abandon, he slowed his Pistons down to a crawl, despite the team’s litany of world-class athletes. It set in place a movement that made the NBA nigh-on unwatchable for a while, but that’s not Daly’s fault. He was put in place to win, and win he did. Over and over and over again.
I watched this guy for years, though, and I don’t really remember the wins. I remember being glued to the TV for his Finals wins, and I know I’ve watched and re-watched Detroit’s sweep over the Lakers in 1989, and the somewhat tougher turn in Portland the next year several times since, but I don’t remember Daly’s post-buzzer reaction. I don’t remember any podium speeches or locker room jubilation. I’m sure it was there, but it was the journey toward those wins that sticks out, 20 years later.
And that brings us back to the players, which would please Daly to no end. I’ll remember the tinkering, the tailoring and the trust. Tinkering with a game that never stops evolving, tailoring his coaching to suit his players’ needs (to say nothing of those three-piece suits), and the trust in himself to follow through on what he thought would work.
And for the 16 coaches that wore those “CD” pins during this season’s playoffs, you’d be wise to follow Chuck’s lead. From the top of the heap, to the eighth seeded also-rans. Understand that this game never stops teaching you. And if you stay humble in the face of something you know quite a bit about, the return will be so, so rich.
The man’s work is a pleasure to read.
RIP, Daddy Rich. Yours was a life well-lived.