Twenty-four years after he won his first NBA game, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman joined an exclusive club to which only seven other men belong Saturday night, reaching his 1,000th career victory with a tearful 107-101 victory over Detroit at Target Center.
When it ended and the Wolves had persevered after seeing the same chance slip away Friday night against Toronto, Adelman was surrounded by his players while he wrapped his arm around his wife, Mary Kay, during a special postgame, on-court interview.
“It’s something I never thought about, never aspired to,” he said after a video tribute played on the arena’s big overhead scoreboard, “but I’m glad I got it.”
He joins Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl as the only NBA coaches to reach those 1,000 victories.
“Special people, some of the names up there,” Adelman said afterward. “It’s incredible. I never expected to be with that group. I’ve had some really special situations. We were able to stay at a couple places a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often.”
Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams weren’t born when Adelman was promoted from Blazers assistant coach and replaced the fired Mike Schuler in February 1989. Five games later he got his first NBA victory, beating the expansion Heat in Miami.
“Well, thanks a lot,” he said when reminded of that. “I feel older. There’s 1,000 wins everybody keeps talking about, but I don’t know how many losses, too.”
For the record, he has won those 1,000 games and lost 703 during a career in which he reached the NBA Finals twice with a Portland team built around Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Buck Williams.
He coached five-plus seasons in Portland, two in Golden State, eight more in Sacramento and four in Houston before he accepted the Wolves job in September 2011 and brought his sons R.J. and David with him to work for the team in Minnesota.
On Saturday, David wiped tears from his eyes as players hugged and congratulated Adelman immediately after the game.
Mary Kay Adelman did, too.
Adelman left the team for 11 games in January to be by her side while doctors searched for a reason for her sudden seizures. He later said twice during that time he contemplated retiring and says he will consider whether he will coach next season after this one ends April 17.
“She had to be part of it,” said Adelman, who has been married more than 40 years. “I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this and you move and you raise six kids and everything else, if it wasn’t for her, I never could have done this. That’s why I’m really glad to do it here. It relieves a little bit of stress.”
Players encircled Adelman and the announced crowd of 15,311 stayed and stood in the stands, cheering while he was interviewed on the court after the game.
In the locker room later, his players presented him with a Timberwolves jersey — you guess what number on was on it — and Adelman received a big hug from owner Glen Taylor following his postgame news conference.
“He deserve it,” said Rubio, who missed his first 12 shots but made a crucial one with 54 seconds left and afterward had his hurting left shoulder wrapped in an ice bag. “What he did this season, it’s amazing. He stayed with the team. He had some issues, but he gets through those issues and still gets with us. That means a lot. I admire that.
“I want to say thank you for everything he did for us, staying with us in tough moments, even when, for him, it was even tougher. He shows us how to do it.”
In the visitor’s locker room, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank praised a man who played seven NBA seasons in the late 1960s and 1970s before starting a coaching career at a little Oregon community college before he went on to coach everyone from Drexler, Chris Webber and Yao Ming to Ron Artest.
“It’s phenomenal, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I will say it for the millionth time: He was one of the most underrated coaches in this game. He is a phenomenal teacher. For him to do it at every single stop with the consistency he has. He is a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous coach.”