Death took no holidays in 2015, especially if you were part of the NBA family. Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders’ death in October hit hardest in Minnesota, but Sam Mitchell, the man who replaced him as coach, simply says “it goes on and on” about a list of those in the basketball world who died last year.
“It’s just amazing how many have left us,” Mitchell said. “This has been a tough year for the people we have lost in the NBA and our basketball family.”
Meadowlark Lemon: Nicknamed basketball’s “Clown Prince,” he popularized the game worldwide by spreading the traveling Harlem Globetrotters’ gospel with half-court hook shots, ball-handling tricks and comic bits. He died Dec. 27 at age 83. “We all watched him for a lot of years growing up,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “The Globetrotters were something special, and he was the iconic figure.”
John “Hot Rod” Williams: A rugged Sixth Man on Cleveland Cavaliers teams from the late 1980s, he played 13 NBA seasons and died Dec. 11 at age 53 from complications related to prostate cancer.
Dolph Schayes: He was a 12-time All- Star, NBA champion and mobile big man who from the late 1940s to early 1960s reinvented post play. His son Danny played 18 NBA seasons, too. Dolph died Dec. 10 at age 87.
Moses Malone: He went from high school directly to pro ball with the ABA’s Utah Stars long before Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant ever did. One of the most dominant centers ever, he led Philadelphia to the 1983 title and was named NBA Finals MVP, too. He died Sept. 13 at age 60 from heart disease.
Darryl Dawkins: The Philadelphia star changed the game with rim-rattling, backboard-busting dunks, some of which he named. Dawkins always said he was nicknamed “Chocolate Thunder” by a guy who never saw him play, musician Stevie Wonder. He died at age 58 on Aug. 27 from a heart attack.
Mel Daniels: A Hall of Famer and longtime Indiana front-office executive, he won two MVP awards and three ABA championships with the Pacers before they moved to the NBA. He died on Oct. 30 at age 71.
Harry Gallatin: Nicknamed “The Horse” when he played for New York from 1948 to 1957, he played 610 consecutive games, a franchise record that still stands nearly 60 years later. He died Oct. 7 at age 88.
Rod Hundley: A high-scoring guard from West Virginia before Jerry West came along, “Hot Rod” played 431 games with the Lakers in Minneapolis and L.A. and broadcast 3,051 more for the Jazz in New Orleans and Utah. He died March 27 at age 80.
Jack Haley: A 6-foot-10 Southern California surfer and part-time actor, he played nine NBA seasons and won a title with Chicago in 1996. He died March 16 at age 51 from heart disease.
Anthony Mason: A brute of a small forward, he played for six NBA seasons but is most remembered as a New York Knick, and a member of their team that reached the 1994 Finals. He died Feb. 28 at age 48 from congestive heart failure.
Earl Lloyd: The first black player in NBA history when he debuted with the Washington Capitols in 1950, he was called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver “as inspirational as he was understated” after he died Feb. 26 at age 86.
Jerome Kersey: A physical small forward on Portland’s two NBA Finals teams in the early 1990s, he died Feb. 19 at age 52 from blood-clot complications after he underwent knee surgery.
Roy Tarpley: So big and so skilled, the Dallas Mavericks star was headed toward greatness before his career was sidetracked by drug and alcohol abuse. He died Jan. 9 at age 50, reportedly from liver failure.
Also remembered: North Carolina coach Dean Smith never played or coached in the NBA, but Billy Cunningham, Doug Moe, Larry Brown and George Karl all learned from him. He died Feb. 7 at age 83. … Jerry Tarkanian was known for his UNLV teams and battles with the NCAA, but he coached San Antonio for 20 fleeting games in 1992. He died Feb. 11 at age 84.
NBA Short Takes
The Timberwolves and Detroit said goodbye to 2015 and rang in 2016 with Thursday’s game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but neither Sam Mitchell nor Pistons/GM coach Stan Van Gundy expected to be a changed man in the coming year.
“I make resolutions all the time,” Van Gundy said. “Some I do a better job on than others. But they are as likely to come on June 12 as January 1. I’m not a big New Year’s resolution guy.”
When asked if he believed in such things, Mitchell said, “No, because I’m never going to keep it anyway.”
There’s a D in Aldridge
Now that he has coached La Marcus Aldridge for three months, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich promises he’s even more impressed with the former All-Star than he was coaching against him all those years when Aldridge played for Portland.
“He’s a better defender and rebounder than I expected,” Popovich said. “He changes shots. We all knew he could score. He’s a big factor in our defense being better this year.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 6 p.m. at Phila.
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Denver
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Cleveland
Player to watch: Kevin Love, Cleveland
The Wolves’ three-time All Star will be back at Target Center for the second time since that August 2014 trade to the Cavaliers.
“I played awful, absolutely atrocious.”
— Wolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns, maybe his own toughest critic, who added “terrible” as an adjective, too, after Wednesday’s 25-point, 10-rebound night against Utah left him dissatisfied because of missed free throws and missed defensive assignments.