If I had a nickel for every time a media member asked new Head Coach Rick Carlisle how the Mavericks would fair this season, I would move ahead of Mark Cuban on the Forbes 400 list.
Asking anyone to make a prediction on how a season will turn out weeks before it is to start is like asking Mr. Magoo to read the top line of the eye chart.
Luckily, Inside Dish caught up with Coach Carlisle after a recent Mavericks practice and he answered a lot of questions that are a lot more interesting than wondering about predictions.
When and how did you first hear that the Mavericks might be interested in you as a coach?
It was a couple days after the Mavericks’ series with New Orleans. Terry (Stotts) and Dwane (Casey) were in Indianapolis because we had meetings with New York and Chicago scheduled for that Thursday. I got a call from Donnie the night before and he asked to talk about the coaching job in Dallas. I told him that we had an 11:00 a.m. meeting with New York and a dinner meeting at my house with Chicago. He came in-between the meetings and we talked basketball for three hours, and that was the start of a very swift process that got me to Dallas.
So you were obviously ready to get back into coaching this year. Did you miss it?
I had taken a year away from coaching another time in 2000-2001. It was a great experience for me. I did broadcasting for Seattle and went around and spent a lot of time with great coaches and great basketball people. So I knew that taking a year off from basketball was a good thing and something I was ready to do again. So while I was out of it last year, I was watching the game with great interest because I was doing analyst work for ESPN. I had a chance to get around the league and watch a lot of different teams and coaches, and as the year went on I knew I would be involved in at least talks with teams about some jobs, so that got my juices flowing and I was amped up to get back to coaching.
When you were a player in the NBA, did you know that you wanted to be a coach?
Yeah, I always felt that I wanted to be a coach. When you are a player you just hope that you can keep playing forever. But for me, I took my last shot when I was thirty years old. I had a chance to make the New Jersey Nets as a free agent and did make it for a month, and then I got a phone call one day from Bill Fitch (the head coach of the New Jersey Nets) saying that I was waived, but that if I was interested he had an assistant coach position open. At the time he only had one assistant coach and asked me if I was interested in the position. I was like ‘Aaah, Yeah!!!!’ I was very fortunate to get my start in coaching so quickly.
When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing basketball very early, probably 6 years old. I used to follow my dad around all the time. He was a very good recreational player. He played into his 50s and for years I would tag along with him. He fought tooth-and-nail to get me into the pick-up games with older players which helps you become a better player. There was one university near us - St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York - and my dad spent a lot of time working out there, so when I got into high school I got to play in a lot of games with good Division III college players, and all that stuff helped too.
So your dad was your basketball idol when you were growing up?
He was the guy I followed around everywhere and it was always a little conflicting, because whenever I played with him he was always saying “Pass, Pass, Pass!” and then when he would come to my games in junior high, junior varsity, and varsity he would always be yelling “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!” So I developed a good court awareness and a passing mentality when I played with him, and then once I played with the guys at my level, I had to take on the other role.
When did you figure out that you were good enough to play in college?
Well, I went to a year of post graduate prep school from high school because I didn’t have any Division I offers, and then after PG at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Mass., I had one Division I offer at the University of Maine, and that was an easy choice. I went there for two years and had some success playing against some of the ranked teams, and decided that I wanted to transfer to see if I could play at the highest level of college basketball. When I had an opportunity to leave, it was either Syracuse, Providence or the University of Virginia. At that time, Virginia was a top two or three team in the country with Ralph Sampson, Jeff Lamp and those guys. So I took visits to all those places and just decided to go to Virginia and it worked out (Elite Eight 1983 and Final Four 1984).
Earlier you said you took your last shot at 30. Do you miss playing basketball?
No, I don’t. I played so much basketball growing up and by the time I was 30 I was having so much trouble with my back, had a dislocated shoulder, and dealing with all the injuries was taking a lot of the fun out of the game for me. Fortunately, I was able to get playing basketball out of my system. It is a good feeling. I love coming out and shooting shots with the guys, but I have no desire to get into a pick-up game.
The Celtics won the championship the spring they drafted you in 1984. What did it feel like when you found out that you were drafted by the Celtics and how did you find out?
My attorney, Bill Pollack, called me. In all honesty when I heard it was Boston, I thought that was death. You “think you hope” you want to be drafted by a bad team because there is going to be turnover and a chance to make it somewhere. In my case, it was the perfect situation for my abilities. The circumstances were perfect for me. It really was a perfect storm for about three weeks and then boom, I was on the team. I was drafted in the third round. Of course, there is no longer a three-round draft, so I would have gone undrafted today. In those days there were 10 rounds in the draft. I was one of four guys that made it from rookie camp to veteran camp. I caught lightning in a bottle and had a great training camp. There were some guys that were holding out that allowed me to get more time. I had a couple of big exhibition games and all of a sudden Gerald Henderson was traded, and Danny Ainge became a starter, and I made the team. It was good fortune and good timing.
You won the Championship your second year in Boston, but it was sandwiched by losses in your first and third years.
Winning championships in those days was such a part of Boston’s culture that when you won the championship, it was really what was expected as the only goal of a season. Yeah, we were in the championship my first three years, but what was really great about those years was a lot of those guys became really good friends. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Ainge, Dennis Johnson all those guys. My friendship with Larry has really been important to my career because I came to Indiana with him as an assistant, which was a major increase in responsibility for me which got me on track to be considered for a head coaching spot.
So has Larry Bird been the biggest influence on your coaching in the NBA?
He is definitely one of them. Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly are both Hall of Fame caliber coaches. P.J. Carlesimo, who I worked with in Portland, was great. All of them were important but I would say Daly, Bird, and Fitch would be in that order.
What was it like to play with Larry Bird?
I played with him in 1985 and 1986, and he was the NBA MVP in 1984, 1985, and 1986. I can tell you that he was without question the greatest player on the planet at that time. These guys just weren’t great players - they were fun people and great competitors. They had fun playing the games and competing, and there was an element of boredom that came into play because they were so good. Larry would mess around with the other team’s players. He would talk trash to the other team’s coaches, and we would all be on our side laughing a lot of the time at the things he would say, but the bottom line was winning. He was one of the great winners of all time. He worked harder than anyone in the league at that time. I think he felt if he wasn’t out-working everyone that he couldn’t possibly be the best player.
So do you think he is the best player that has ever played in the NBA?
Well, Bird, (Michael) Jordan, and Magic (Johnson) are the three best players that I have seen when I was playing back in those days. There are so many great players that have played this game. But when you start talking about the all-time greats, those three are definitely at the top of the list.
Do you ever wear your championship ring, or do you know where it is?
I don’t ever wear it. I do know where it is, but I am not going to say.
Do you remember hitting a winning shot at the buzzer during your basketball career? All levels count.
Yeah, I do remember. There were a couple times in high school I did it…but there was a time in college at Virginia when we ran a play for Othell Wilson. It was a regional quarter-final game against Arkansas. Othell drove and the ball got deflected. It came right into my hands on the right baseline, so I grabbed it and shot it. It went in just before the buzzer and got us into the Sweet 16, which was a big deal for me obviously.
You played five seasons in the NBA: 1984-85 through 1989-90, and it shows on Basketball-Reference.com that you started one game for the Boston Celtics in the Championship 1985-1986 season. How did it feel when they announced your name as a starter, and what were the circumstances that made it so?
Well, the way it happens is a better story than how I felt. It was towards the end of the year in 1986. We were on our way to winning 67 games and having the best record. We were in Milwaukee, and I think the coaches just wanted to rest the starters. They didn’t even tell us during shoot around what was going on. Jimmy Rodgers, who was an assistant at the time, came up to me after shoot around and said, “Be ready to go tonight. Get your rest today”. It just seemed different. For some reason I couldn’t tell what was going on. Milwaukee had some players that had been out with injury (Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, and Rick Pierce) and had come back early to play that game against Boston. In those days, playing Boston was such a big deal. So these guys all make this early gallant comeback to play. Then they announce our starting line-up and it’s me, Jerry Sichting, Scott Wedman, Greg Kite, and Bill Walton. We walk out to the center circle and there is like a collective look that says, “What are these guys doing? Where’s Bird, Parrish, McHale and those guys?” We had taken so much air out of them that we were actually ahead at the end of the first quarter. We ended up winning the game, and Bird and those guys came off the bench.
Have you enjoyed your NBA life so far?
Yeah, I have enjoyed it. How much longer is this interview?
What was your first job growing up?
Putting bails of hay in the barn.
Do you remember your first car?
Subaru station wagon.
What do you drive now?
Something much better.
Do you remember your first girlfriend?
When did you meet your wife?
I met her on a cruise in 1987.
Where did you take her on your first date?
I took her to a Grateful Dead Show in Washington, D.C. and we sat on stage.
How many children?
One little girl, Abby. She is 4.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
What was the last movie that you saw?
Sex in the City.
Do you watch any TV shows these days?
Yeah, I do…Entourage and 30 Rock.
What is your all-time favorite television show?
The original Batman with Adam West.
If you could get front row seats for any event of all-time, what would you like to see?
Crunchy or Puffy Cheetos?
Favorite salty junk food?
Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.
Favorite sweet junk food?
Chocolate Chip cookies.
What is your favorite soda?
What is your favorite type of food?
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Dallas?
What is your favorite restaurant in NBA cities?
What type of PDA or cell phone do you use?
Do you email, text, or call as the main mode of communication with your friends?
You play piano. Where did you learn and who led you to learn?
Somewhat self taught and learned a lot from Bruce Hornsby.
Who is your piano playing idol?
Bruce and Keith Garrett.
What is your favorite type of music?
Who is your favorite musician?
Hornsby and Garrett.
What books do you have on your night stand right now?
I have a DVD of training camp practices.
What is your favorite pastime on your days off?
Hanging out with Abby.
Okay, only twenty more questions….just kidding…that’s enough information for now.
Reprinted from Inside Dish Issue 1 2008 2009 To sign up for Inside Dish that bi-weekly newsletter of the Dallas Mavericks double click Inside Dish