Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chuck Daly & I in Richfield, Ohio

By Scott Morganroth
When I was covering the Detroit Pistons on a regular basis, I'd occasionally take a nearby road trip.
There is one road trip I'll never forget in the early 1990's and that's when I saw the Pistons face the Cleveland Cavaliers in a nationally televised contest on a Sunday afternoon at the old Richfield Coliseum.
The Richfield Coliseum was located at 2923 Streetsboro Road, Richfield, OH 44286. The Coliseum was located between Cleveland and Akron.
The arena was torn down by a wrecking ball from 3/99 to 5/99. It was transferred to the National Park Service which runs the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. Now instead of basketball players roaming the court, the land is home to the deer and rabbits who run and roam the wild.
What made this trip so special were a couple things.
The Saturday night before the game, I stayed at the Pistons team hotel and went to dinner with Detroit's Assistant Coaches Brenden Malone & Brenden Suhr at Whitey's Restaurant.
We were watching a couple of NBA games on separate televisions. They were scouting other opponents while I was subdued and asked them basketball questions during commercials. It was a great time! These guys were class acts.
Twelve hours later, I had lunch with another Pistons Coach. His name was Chuck Daly. We sat in the Media Cafeteria and just talked. I asked Daly lots of questions off the record about his team but more importantly slipped a few in about life. He was nice enough to answer them, pat me on the back and shook my hand when the meal was over.
Daly told me the key to his squad's success is that he got his players to buy into the team first approach and not worry about individual statistics. He said this approach works well in life as well and thanks to his wisdom I've learned 18 years later, he is truly correct. He said he'd use his distribution of minutes to get his point across and the players knew he was in charge and respected what he was doing.
One of the things we joked about was the fact that in the Richfield Coliseum, he was 9-32 as coach of the Cavaliers in his first coaching job. He admitted that this was a learning experience but when Cleveland fired him, he always enjoyed coming back with a division rival and letting his former employer know they made a mistake by not giving him enough time to incorporate his system. But he told me that when he was dismissed, he was determined to turn a negative into a positive.
Did he ever.
It's hard to believe that Daly's first Pistons contract was a three-year deal for about $125,000 per season. He had a three-year contract at Cleveland in 1981-82 worth $500,000. But he took lesser money to come to Detroit and erase that blemish for another shot to become a successful NBA head coach which he undoubtedly did building a dynasty with the Bad Boys that led to a pair of championships.
Dealing with personalities like Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Rick Mahorn, role players such as James Edwards, Vinnie Johnson along with his stars Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and juggling their minutes made Daly look like Albert Einstein with his success.
He worked the same magic with the 1992 Olympic Dream Team which won the Gold Medal by dealing with more superstars. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, etc... turned out to be the icing on the cake for his Hall of Fame Career.
But when you think of all the success he had, it's still hard to believe that once upon a time, Daly like all of us had some tough challenges in the pros to overcome dating back to his days at the Richfield Coliseum.
It's also very ironic that by the end of June, the Cavaliers are considered the odds on favorites, led by LeBron James to win their first NBA title and Daly will not be alive to see it. Perhaps, deep down inside, he doesn't care, but we'll never know.
To date, he's still the all-time winningest coach in Pistons history. Detroit retired the No. 2 to honor his pair of titles. There is no doubt that late Pistons Owner Bill Davidson made sure his future contracts were much, much higher as his stature with organization and his influences are alive and well with the people he touched the most.
When I saw Pistons Vice President, Public Relations Matt Dobek and Dumars in town to see Detroit face the Miami Heat on April 15, there is no doubt that they went to Jupiter, Fla., on this trip to visit with Daly.
On the day that Daly died, Detroit News Columnist Terry Foster was correct when he said that it's been a tough period for the Pistons by mentioning that longtime scout and Hall of Fame Coach Will Robinson died last year and Davidson died earlier this year.
As much as I think of the great times I've spent with Daly especially in Richfield, Ohio., it's ironic that I was in Jupiter, where he lived and died on May 9, at the age of 78 of Pancreatic Cancer. I was in Jupiter picking up my friend Melissa. When I first heard of Daly's death, Melissa, who isn't knowledgeable about sports, was fantastic and listened to my great memories of Daly.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

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