Finalists looking for their first big NBA coaching break 30 years ago, the Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman and Denver’s George Karl now could be brought back together once again all these years later, in the league’s exclusive 1,000-victory club.
Only eight men in NBA history belong. Karl was the most recent inductee — in December 2010 — until Adelman reached the mark with Saturday’s victory over Detroit.
Somebody asked Karl recently if a fellow gets a special blazer or is taught a secret handshake when he enters such rare air.
“I didn’t get any of that, but I think it does feel a bit like a special club,” he said. “When I first got into coaching, I thought 250 wins would be great, I could probably have a career.”
Portland coach Jack Ramsay in 1983 searched for a new assistant and narrowed his list to two former NBA journeyman guards who pursued coaching careers. He chose Adelman — a community-college coach in nearby Salem, Ore. — over Karl, who had won two Continental Basketball Association Coach of the Year awards.
Three decades later, each has lasted longer as an NBA coach and won more games that either possibly could have dreamed.
“Coaching is a really enjoyable profession, but it’s not an easy profession,” Karl said. “It’s very difficult. There are so many people who think they can do what we do. In my mind, there are so few who can and do it well. I have tremendous respect for the guys who do it year and year out.”
Both men have coached five different NBA teams, even if they have used different methods and philosophies to do so.
But Adelman’s son David — a Wolves player development coach — sees common threads in both men’s careers.
“They play different styles, but they’ve both had characters on their teams that people in the league thought, ‘Nobody can coach this guy,’ ” David Adelman said. “And they coached those guys for years and years and they succeed under him.”
Only five men have won more than games than Karl. But both men — just like wins leader Don Nelson and Jerry Sloan (No. 3) on the list ahead of them — never have won a championship.
“It used to be a dream, now it’s something of a nightmare,” Karl said of that quest. “I think he wants to win one as bad as I do. But it’s still an honor to go to the gym and coach the best players and be on stage 82 times a year and get criticized and scrutinized. And, of course, every once in a while get patted on the back and praised.”
Each man, whether Karl admits it or not, has been praised more often in his career than he has been criticized and scrutinized.
“Rick in the last six, seven years has gotten a lot of recognition for how he has coached throughout his career and so have I,” Karl said. “His teams when he was in Houston and Sacramento, they were nightmares to prepare for. They are very instinctive. They don’t have a pattern. The pattern is created by how the game happens, and that takes a lot of confidence by a coach.
“Coaches who totally control every possession don’t have the window of creativity that Coach Adelman’s teams have. His teams have a flair, and I’m going to tell you, this team they have here, if they get healthy, might be one of the most creative teams he has ever had. There are not many coaches who have the courage and confidence to let their players do that and still coach them in a winning of way.”
PEERS PRAISE ADELMAN
Those who have coached against him and played for him talk about Wolves coach Rick Adelman, the newest member of the NBA’s exclusive 1,000-win club:
Indiana coach Frank Vogel:
“Everyone talks about the Phil Jacksons, Popoviches or Pat Rileys, but he’s right up there. You can’t say he’s not as good as those guys. He has done it for many, many years. I have great respect for him.”
Houston guard Aaron Brooks, who played his first four NBA seasons for Adelman: “There are only 82 in a season. He’s one of the best ever in this league, definitely the best coach I’ve had. That he’s done it with all different pieces, all different teams is amazing. I’m honored to have him as my first coach. He brings you in for your specific skills and tells you, ‘Don’t try to be anybody else.’ He just puts you in the right place to do good things.”
Cleveland coach Byron Scott, an Adelman assistant for two seasons in Sacramento:
“Players loved playing for him because he allows you to just play basketball. If you found one player who didn’t like playing for Rick, it’s the player, it’s not the coach.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale when asked if he hopes to coach long enough to win 1,000 games: “I’d have to be 120.”
Detroit coach Lawrence Frank:
“You can make an argument that he might be the most underrated coach in the history of the NBA. I love watching his teams play. I think he’s a Hall of Fame coach.”
WOLVES WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 9:30 p.m. at Golden State (FSN+)
Wednesday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Clippers (FSN+)
Friday: 8 p.m. at Utah (FSN)
Player to watch:
Chris Paul, Clippers
Arguably the game’s best point guard, he has led the Clippers to 50 victories. Now let’s see if he can lift them into home-court advantage during the playoffs and out of the first round.