With 999 victories down in his career and another to go, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has experienced enough this season to know nothing in this world is guaranteed.
He never expected his search for NBA career victory No. 1,000 would last until April. He also never expected to have to coach most of this season without star Kevin Love and many others, or that he’d miss much of January because of a family emergency that caused him to contemplate retirement then … and does still.
“I thought it wasn’t going to be that hard, and then I found out it’s real hard,” Adelman said. “I thought there’d be no doubt we’d be getting there. The way things happen makes you realize life isn’t always easy or fair. You have to learn to roll with it and adjust.”
He likely learned that lesson long ago in a 30-year NBA career during which he has become known as a player’s coach.
He professes to know not what that means, but nonetheless is a quiet, private man — father of six, grandfather of seven — who at age 66 still wins over players by asking them to be what he discovered during his career’s biggest failure with Golden State briefly long ago rather the years and years of success in Portland, Sacramento and Houston.
“I learned a lot those two years,” he said. “I learned you’ve got to be yourself.”
And he has learned the term “player’s coach” means nothing to him, other than he coaches the way he wanted to be coached — without the yelling or intimidation — during a seven-year NBA playing career with five different teams.
“I don’t know what that is, you don’t get hit by a guy?” he said. “But I know it’s a players’ league, and you better understand that.”
Promoted from assistant coach by Portland billionaire owner Paul Allen in mid-season 24 years ago, Adelman reached his first NBA victory in February 1989 in very much the same way he approaches this next one that will place him in an exclusive club that consists of just seven other coaches.
Asked this week if he ever set this threshold as a goal, he said, “No, No. 1 was. When I got the team in the middle of the season, I was just trying to get one win.”
And that’s all he proclaims to do now — just win the next one — all these many years later.
Whether it’s Friday against Toronto, Saturday against Detroit or somewhere beyond, Adelman soon will join a list of coaches that includes Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and, coincidentally enough, George Karl, with whom he was a finalist before Blazers coach Jack Ramsay gave Adelman his first NBA coaching job as an assistant in 1983.
He has worked 1,700 games as an NBA head coach with an understated, even approach to which Ramsay and others credit his longevity, even if Adelman claims it isn’t true.
“But I do, I do, I do,” he said when asked about the lows of losing. “Ask my wife about that. She’s the one who really needs to get to this figure because she deserves it.”
Adelman missed 11 games in January to be alongside his wife, Mary Kay, while doctors tried to determine what was causing her seizures. She has stabilized because of medication that doctors continue to adjust, and Adelman said he will consider her condition foremost when he contemplates his future at season’s end.
“My dad plays golf, but his ultimate hobby is to be around my mom, which I think is what has kept him sane in this job,” said Wolves player development coach David Adelman. “This job has so many upsides, but it’s a stressful thing and you have to have somebody in your life, a partner who keeps you sane and gets you away from all this. My mom knows my dad better than anybody else. They’re an incredible partnership.”
Mary Kay Adelman is expected to be there if victory 1,000 comes Friday at Target Center.
“ I hope she’s there when it comes, but, like I said, what year is that going to be?” Rick Adelman said the other day. “I don’t take anything for granted.”