What did you do over Christmas break? Hang out? Take a trip? Watch some sports? Personally, I’ve never really been good at sitting around doing nothing. My family does go on a lot of trips but those can involve $20-a-night motels, ugh. Although, to be fair, I’ve only ever stayed in a $20 motel twice. Sports . . . I’m not very good at those either. I don’t watch athletics, so my knowledge is limited. The first three associations I make when I hear the term sports are Babe Ruth (and that’s only because of the candy bar), goals (because I have so many), and the Lakers (because they’re “LA’s” team). But now that school has started, we’re all in the same boat. The equalizer we have for the next several months is school. Sad that some of you won’t get to spend your evenings watching Kobe Bryant and his teammates kicking the butts of other teams? It’s okay, to make this hard transition a little more bearable, “The Current” is bringing some fun basketball trivia to you. No, this is not an article about the stats of the last basketball game. It’s the story of the person, me, senior Kadyn Chamorro, who knows virtually nothing about sports, and my interview with Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the Lakers. His first words to me when I told him I know nothing about basketball were, “I don’t either.” That comment was a sign of his character, both funny and charming, while the following comments will tell you more about his coaching philosophy and style.
Me: How has your second year as head coach of Lakers been going? How have your team and your coaching tendencies differed from last year?
Coach D’Antoni: “It’s going okay. We can get better and we are getting better. We have a great group of guys. Last year was more trying to manage egos and trying to fit pieces that really didn’t fit. But this year it’s a lot more enjoyable, coaching. We’re not quite as good. We have to get Kobe back and Steve Nash. But that’s what coaching is all about. It’s a challenge and it’s fun.”
Me: Do you enjoy coaching the players?
Coach D’Antoni: “Yeah, I love it…when they’re good guys. When they’re bad guys, it’s a little tough. But that’s why they pay you money to coach the bad guys. Coaching good guys…you’d do it for free.” And he doesn’t do it for free.
Me: What is your interaction with the players?
Coach D’Antoni: “Hopefully good, but not always, when players accept their roles and are happy then it’s a great feeling. When you have players on the team that aren’t happy with their roles then it can be a little contentious, but overall try to be respectful and nice with knowing I have a job to do and they have a job to do and, when it’s like that, it’s great, sometimes wires are crossed.”
Me: What do the players talk about in the locker room?
Coach D’Antoni. “You wouldn’t want to know. This is a family publication, right? It’s like anybody else. They’re 20 yr olds that make a lot of money that are a unique group. There are 450 of them in the world and some of them are very studious about how to change the world and some of them just want to have fun. There is a little bit of everything.”
Me (but Coach Kelsey’s question): “How do you blend your offensive philosophy around guys who aren’t natural fits? Just try to get the best out of what you have, or continue to try and make it work?”
Coach D’Antoni: “We trade them. Yeah, we trade them. He can cut them.You try to develop their skill and at this level they’re all good. You know what, if they can’t do what you want to do then I’ll try to change up and do what they can do. Don’t be so pigheaded that they have to do it your way. No they don’t, they have to do it the best way they can do it. Hopefully it fits together and if it doesn’t, I’m usually the one that bends.”
Me: While you were playing professional basketball, who was your favorite coach? Why?
Coach D’Antoni: “Favorite coach of professional basketball? Probably Dan Peterson, a coach that I had in Europe. He was an American but he coached me in the Italian League. 8yrs I had him. Intelligent. He could feel what you need as a player whether it was confidence or to be put in certain positions. He had that feel. He was just a really good player’s coach.”
Me: What’s the worst part of your job and what’s the best part of your job?
Coach D’Antoni: “Worst part is probably…you know when I say worst part, less good, is dealing with the media and having to answer questions that you can’t be totally honest because it would disrupt the chemistry or whatever so you have to find way to be clever yet not tell the truth. The best parts are the relationships you develop with the players. I play with some good guys. Probably another least part is coaching bad guys. That’s not fun.”
Me: Do you think the media has portrayed you in the right light and do you have a favorite newspaper?
Coach D’Antoni: “I don’t read newspapers. Not during basketball season. Not the sports page. Yeah I think they’re okay. They’re fair, they have a job to do. Controversy sells, so they have to feed their kids. I understand the process. I don’t read it. I won’t follow what’s happening through the press or on TV. I just coach and go about living in a different world. I don’t think you can function if you follow all the news around or listen to what people are saying. Somebody will tell me what the players are saying because I need to know that but I don’t follow what’s going on.” “The Current” and its fellow papers get dissed.
Me: When you’re behind in a game or even lose a game, how do you deal with stress? OR Are you stressed?
Coach D’Antoni: “You deal with it, it’s not fun you go through a phase in the sense that one, you’re ticked off, then it turns into a pitty party, then it turns into getting adrenaline again and attacking problems and moving forward.”
Me: Are there any rule changes you’d like to see on the court?
Coach D’Antoni: “Probably one. In Europe, when a ball hits the rim you can go up and knock it off offensively or defensively. Stuff it back in, and it would be offensive goaltending or defensive goaltending, here in the the States I would like to see that changed.”
Me: So far, of the teams you have coached, what’s your favorite team to coach? What was your favorite city to live in?
Coach D’Antoni: “Favorite city to live in? That’s easy: Manhattan Beach or LA. The weather is unbelievable. Probably the best team I’ve had is the Phoenix team. Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire. A lot of them. I can name 15 guys that were just fantastic. They were all a good group of guys. We came from nowhere and had great seasons.”
Me: What was the difference from your coaching experience in New York versus your time in Los Angeles?
Coach D’Antoni: “It’s more or less the same. Two hard markets because of all the publicity and the media hype. But, you know, almost every market, every team- there are challenges that are unique to that team. Every year it changes. Coaching is coaching wherever it is. I just think, you got to put up [with] a lot of hype in New York and Los Angeles.”
Me: When was the last time you watched a high school basketball game?
Coach D’Antoni: “The last three years my son was playing high school basketball and last year I didn’t get to see any because I was on the West Coast and he was on the East Coast in New York, but they would send video clips of him playing. But then his sophomore and junior years I was there every game.”
Confession time: I may not have known anything about basketball at the time of this interview and I still don’t. Maybe I know a little more now but, what I learned is basketball, at least at the professional level, is a synonym of life or at least high school. There are the studious, the good, the bad, the people doing their jobs, the ones that will change the world and then that group that just wants to have fun. Take comfort in the fact that you and the Lakers have somethings in common while you are studying for that chemistry tests instead of watching their games.
From a man who said he knows nothing about basketball, he sure seems to know his job. Thank you for your honesty, it will never be lost on this journalist.