You know that feeling of relief when you finish something you’d never thought you’d finish? The proverbial weight lifted off one’s shoulders? It’s different from the feeling one feels after finishing something that has an inevitable end. In other words, you know it’s going to end; you just don’t know when or how. Well, the inevitable end came for Rick Adelman today as he concluded his silent but extraordinary career, not as a basketball coach, but as a teacher.
I don’t know the man at all. All I know is that he has won over 1,000 NBA games (1,042 to be exact). He took the Portland Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals, the Sacramento Kings to the Western Conference Finals, and pushed the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals with the Houston Rockets, who were devoid of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He developed the “Corner Offense”, and it turns out that just about every head coach has one part or another implemented in his own offense. He turned Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Brad Miller, and, recently, Kevin Love into terrific passing big men. All four have excelled in his offense. He rarely changed his facial expression throughout the course of a game, only changing it when he was disgusted with an official’s call. He rarely expressed excitement. He normally deflected credit. His tone of voice never changed. His principles always remained the same.
He will never get the credit he deserves because he never won a championship. Championships are what separate the great from the really good. Adelman was really good. For the majority of his career, Adelman was able to get the most out of his players. Since taking over the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, Adelman never experienced the success he was hoping for when he took over a team in need of direction. Injuries were the main cause of his lack of success in Minnesota. It didn’t help any when his wife became ill. It’s hard enough to be successful in a demanding business, but throw on an illness of one of your loved ones, and it becomes an even heavier burden.
I feel like Adelman became a shell of himself during his time in Minnesota. Many times I would see a blank stare on his face after a questionable call, but it seemed like he wasn’t worried about the game. His body was present, but his mind, sometimes, wasn’t. And I don’t blame him. When you’re so good for such a long time, you aren’t able to notice when you’re losing “it”. You think it’s a simple fix, but it’s not. These last three years have been a strain on Adelman.
But now he gets to walk-off into the sunset, on his own terms; something very few players or coaches are able to do. He can now attend to and care for his wife, without having to prepare a practice plan or game plan for the league’s leading scorer. Instead, he can prepare for the rest of his life. I’ve been more critical of him than I have been complimenting, but I can’t deny the impact he has had on the game of basketball and what a humble person he truly is.
He will go into the NBA Hall of Fame someday. After 23 years of patrolling the sidelines, he will take his last seat. He has influenced many coaches who have come after him, and for that, they are thankful.
The media and other writers won’t ever put him in the same class as the Gregg Popovich’s or Phil Jackson’s, but they both know what he has meant to the game.
And I think he will be just fine with that.