Monday, March 25, 2013
Chris Collins- Growing Up in BB
Chris Collins didn't know his dad had slipped into the gymnasium and was standing behind the bleachers, that big, familiar smile shielded from view as the Duke University basketball player gave advice to the kids at his former junior high.
He spoke of the importance of hard work, passion, perseverance and high character.
"You always wonder if your kids are listening," said Doug Collins, now coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, "and I almost got tears in my eyes. So much of what he was saying – he absorbed so many of the things that I had been speaking about through my entire lifetime while I was running my basketball camps."
It wasn't until years later when Chris, after dealing with the disappointment of a lifetime and becoming a coach and father himself, came to appreciate his dad's most profound lesson.
Family is the ultimate team, selflessness the most important key to success.
Basketball a way of life
Chris knew little about adversity as a youngster. He was named Illinois Mr. Basketball after his senior season at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago, an annual award given to the best player in the state. Other recipients have included Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose. Chris was recruited by Duke, named to the All-ACC rookie team as a freshman and tabbed as the Blue Devils' captain and All-ACC second team as a senior.
As a sophomore he advanced to a national championship game and lost.
But there was plenty of basketball left in Chris Collins' career.
Chris could rely on the wisdom and experience of his dad, who remains burdened by a crushing defeat on the sport's grandest stage.
Doug Collins played a key role in the U.S. men's basketball team's controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the gold medal game at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He hit two free throws to give the U.S. a late 50-49 lead, their first of the game, but confusion over a timeout and repeated issues with the game clock with three seconds remaining led to the Soviets making the game-winning layup as time expired. It was the first U.S. loss in Olympic basketball history, and turned what should have been one of the happiest and proudest days of Doug's life into a boundless pit of sorrow.
"To be robbed of that moment," Chris said, trailing off, at a loss for words.
Still, there was plenty of basketball left in Doug Collins' career. The Sixers selected the 6-6 guard out of Illinois State with the first overall pick in the 1973 draft.
Doug routinely brought Chris and his daughter Kelly to Sixers games at the Spectrum and allowed them into the locker room, the same behind-the-scenes access he grants his five grandchildren today, all while averaging 17.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists over eight seasons.
He was named to four All-Star teams. And Philadelphia reached the playoffs six times during his tenure, including in 1977, when the Sixers advanced to the NBA Finals but lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers. Doug was the team's second-leading scorer that postseason behind Julius Erving, averaging 22.4 points per game. But it wasn't enough to avoid another crushing defeat.
Still, there was plenty of basketball left in Doug Collins' career.
Until there wasn't.
Doug also was a member of the Sixers team that reached the 1980 NBA Finals, but missed the postseason and much of the following year with a knee injury, which ultimately forced his retirement.
"It was hard. My career was taken away from me as a very, very young man," Doug said. "I love basketball. I took care of myself. There was nothing I could do about it. All of a sudden, you were 31 years old, and back then you didn't make enough money so that you wouldn't have to work again. What are you going to do in your life? Your family becomes the focal point. I have two children. I have to feed them and get them through college. I have to find a way to be successful."
He relied on the only thing he knew. Basketball.
Doug worked his way onto the coaching staff at Penn as an unpaid volunteer assistant, showing up at practices and lobbying coach Bob Weinhauer to allow him to help with the team. The 76ers, who still had Doug under contract for three more seasons, soon opened the door to an unexpected broadcasting career. He began by calling Sixers games on the radio alongside longtime Philadelphia sportscaster Steve Fredericks.
During the 1981 season, Sixers assistant coach and eventual Hall of Famer Chuck Daly was hired to become head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In order to replace Daly, Sixers coach Billy Cunningham hired former teammate Matt Guokas away from his television job. Doug Collins replaced Guokas, beginning his TV career by stepping in to an analyst role alongside Andy Musser on PHL 17.
But it wasn't enough.
"I'm a teacher. I love to teach. That's what I've always done," Doug said. "When I grew up, I so admired my high school coach. He was the epitome of what I wanted to be. … I wanted to be a guidance counselor and a high school basketball coach."
Doug moved his family across the country when Weinhauer, the former Penn coach, offered him a job as an assistant on his staff at Arizona State.
PHOTOS: NBA players and their children
Doug landed his first head coaching job with the Chicago Bulls in 1986, where he mentored a young Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He went on to coach the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, always returning to television between coaching stops, until ultimately returning to Philadelphia, where the family's basketball journey has come full circle, at least for the weekend.
Duke is playing Creighton in the third round of the NCAA tournament today at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers' home arena. Chris Collins, the Blue Devils' associate head coach, will patrol the same sideline where his father plies his trade, hoping to help lead Duke to its fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five seasons and the program's third national championship during his tenure.
Doug will not be there. The Sixers are on a West-Coast road trip, playing tonight in Sacramento, winding down a disastrous season that began with so much promise. Star center Andrew Bynum, whom the Sixers traded so much to acquire in a blockbuster four-team trade in August, has missed the entire season with knee injuries, and the team has staggered to a 26-42 record in his absence.
"My dad is the ultimate competitor," Chris said. "To go through some of the struggles and losses, it's not easy, but … he continues to fight. He continues to teach. And nobody wants to win more than him."
Chris seems on the cusp of becoming a first-time head coach, just as his father's coaching career appears to enter its twilight. Chris is reportedly the leading candidate to replace Bill Carmody as the head coach at Northwestern University. And Doug, in his third season as coach of the Sixers, may step aside once the final bit of Earth is shoveled onto this season of cratered expectations.
Doug helped breathe life into the stagnant 76ers upon his return to Philadelphia in 2010. In his first season, he finished runner up for the NBA's Coach of the Year award. Last season, he led the franchise to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003. But this season has admittedly been the most difficult of his career, and he's never spent more than three seasons at any of his previous NBA coaching stops.
"It'll be something I decide about," Doug said about whether he wants to return for next season. "I don't want any focus on that right now. Every year I evaluate my life and what I want to do. … But I'm enjoying this group of guys and how they're finishing this season. They've shown a lot of heart."
Doug carries in his wallet a list of Hall of Fame coaches who have also struggled through difficult times on the court.
Jerry Sloan won 20 games one year.
Pat Riley finished his illustrious career by going 15-67.
Doc Rivers lost 18 consecutive games in 2007, then led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship the following season.
The list goes on.
"Anybody can win. How do you handle yourself when you're getting your ass handed to you?" Doug said. "I'm not going to be defined by one year of coaching. What kind of man are you when you walk around the arena? Are people happy to see you? It's a culture you try to build. This is the way you do things."
Doug wasn't at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, either, when Duke defeated Albany in the second round of the tournament.
But Chris had plenty of support. His wife Kim and his mom and his sister were in the stands, along with his son, daughter, niece and two nephews, each of the children between the ages of 10 years and 10 months old.
"Everybody else is here," Chris said, "so I know it's killing him being out West."
After the Blue Devils won, the family piled into two vehicles and traveled to Hershey, Pa., to watch Kelly's husband, the boys basketball coach at Archbishop Carroll High School in suburban Philadelphia, lead his team in the PIAA Class AAA state championship game later that night.
"It's a shame that my father-in-law doesn't get to be a part of that and actually be there in person to watch Duke and watch us play," Paul Romanczuk said earlier in the week, before his Patriots lost to Imhotep Charter, "but we know he's so unbelievably supportive. … We're there for each other regardless of what it is, whether it's basketball or anything. For this weekend to pop up, it's just like it was meant to be. We don't get to spend a lot of time together, but it's about the quality of time and not the quantity."
Romanczuk recalled the joy of a recent Christmas, when he and Doug spent the afternoon watching video of a high school basketball game and talking strategy. At the time, Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday was just a year or two older than Archbishop Carroll's point guard.
"Being a high school coach, some of the more talented kids you get at 13 or 14 [years old]. They're boys and you take them and help turn them into young men," Romanczuk said. "That's the best part of the job for me.
"I can only hope that I wind up having the same relationship with my two sons that Chris and Doug have," he said. "It's so wonderful to see. And it's so much more than basketball with the two of them. Doug is such a man of faith. And he and Chris are each other's biggest fans. … They're great role models for all of us to see how to act and how to be as men."
His own man
Doug never set out to coach Chris when his son was growing up.
He took him to basketball camps since the age of 2, but never directly coached his boy.
"I would never be speaking just to him," Doug said. "I was speaking to 250 kids."
Even when Chris reached high school, Doug largely stayed out of the way, though they shared a love for the sport, hours melting away as father and son enjoyed watching game after game on TV.
"The one thing I always appreciated about my dad was he felt it was very important for him to be my dad, not my coach," Chris said. "But he always wanted me to be with coaches that he knew would give me the right message."
Chris' coach at Glenbrook North High, Brian James, appreciated the autonomy allowed by his star guard's father, then a national basketball analyst and former coach of the Chicago Bulls, a recipe for an awkward coach-parent relationship if there ever was one.
"His dad never ever tried to interfere with me coaching," James said. "Doug asked me to do three things. He said all I ask you to do is teach him how to play, work his ass off and I don't care if you play him at point guard or center, if he's good enough, they will find him."
Chris caught the attention of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski by scoring 50 points in an elite high school summer league tournament, prevalent before the days of AAU basketball. Four games were being played simultaneously, but many of the coaches migrated over to watch Chris score half a hundred.
James, now an assistant coach with the Sixers, recalled walking along the baseline after the game when Krzyzewski grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the empty seat beside him.
"I don't know who's recruiting Chris Collins. I don't care who's recruiting him," Krzyzewski said. "We are now involved. No one will work harder than us, and no one on our staff will recruit him but me."
"And that's how it started," James said. "He made, obviously, quite an impression."
Chris starred during his four seasons at Duke, just like he did in high school, leading the Blue Devils in a number of statistical categories his senior season, when he ranked among the ACC leaders in scoring, assists, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
He had always dreamed of playing in the NBA, but like his father, his professional playing career ended in disappointment. Still, he chased it hard.
Chris played in Finland before having the opportunity to try out for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
His first preseason game was against the Pistons, a team then led by his dad and his former high school coach.
"I remember I actually hit a 3 and kind of looked over at the bench … and just to see them see me out there on an NBA court, that was pretty cool," Chris said.
The Timberwolves cut him right before the start of the regular season.
"They knew he had borderline talent," James said, "but the players on the team just absolutely loved him. The end of the bench has to be great chemistry guys with unbelievable work ethic, and that's Chris."
The final blow came when he failed to make the roster of the Grand Rapids Hoops of the Continental Basketball Association.
"I think Doug was very good with helping him out with that,'" said Kathy Collins, Doug's wife and Chris' mother. "Doug just encouraged him to move on. 'It's fine not to be a basketball player. … That's not what defines you. You're a good person, you're very talented, there are so many other things you can do.'"
But Chris always had that love for the game, just like his father.
And just like his father, he turned to coaching.
Hall of Fame coach Nancy Lieberman hired Chris to assist with the WNBA's Detroit Shock, and he parlayed that opportunity into a job as an assistant on former Duke star Tommy Amaker's staff at Seton Hall.
Krzyzewski hired Chris as an assistant in 2000, and in his first season back at his alma mater, he helped guide the Blue Devils to the NCAA national championship.
"Ultimately, when you're younger, you think of coaching being Xs and Os and strategy and all that stuff," Chris said, "but what you come to realize when you get in it, it's just like being the head of a family. … I come from a very close-knit family, and we have great, deep relationships, and I think it helps me in coaching, because that's what you need to do with your players.
"It's one thing to be able to diagram plays," he said. "It's another thing to connect with your guys and to be able to get them to go out there and fight for you. To me, that's the ultimate in great coaches, and it's something I've tried to learn from my dad and Coach K. I think it's the most important thing and one of the reasons why hopefully I can be successful."
Chris was named Duke's associate head coach in 2008. That same summer, he joined Krzyzewski in leading the U.S. men's basketball team to a victory over Spain in the championship game of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Doug was there, broadcasting the game for NBC.
The players pulled him onto the court in celebration.
"They're beautiful people, and we feel like we're one and the same family," said Krzyzewski, a father of three and grandfather of eight. "I've known Chris since he was 17 years old. And in Doug's case, all the things that have ever been done in the United States for basketball, Doug's free throws in the '72 Olympics — we got messed over in that game — his free throws in that game would have been shown forever...
"He made them, two swishes, to put us ahead and should have won the '72 Olympics," Krzyzewski said. "That heart, that soul, that passion, his son has it too. I love them to death."
The Basketball Hall of Fame presented Doug Collins with the Curt Gowdy Media Award in 2009.
"You've heard all these people come up here tonight, all of them incredibly successful," Doug said during his acceptance speech. "Well, we have all had mentors, we've had coaches, we've had bosses, we've had parents, we've had friends, we've had family, we've had great support staff. And I've got to tell you that whether I played or I coached or I broadcast, I've always been around greatness. And I have such admiration for people who do things so well, the standard of excellence that they do in their jobs."
Chris eventually stood from his seat at the family's table, and with tears in his eyes began fumbling in his pocket.
"It was emotional," his mom said. "I knew what was going to go on."
Jerry Colangelo, then the director of USA Basketball, had replica Olympic gold medals crafted for each of the 2008 team's coaches.
"Dad," Chris said, surrounded by lifelong friends and family, "I have something for you."
He draped his gold medal around his father's neck
"This is yours," he said. "It's 37 years too late. But it's yours."
An ultimate act of selflessness in a venue built to glorify individual achievement.
Doug Collins had never been more proud of his boy.
Jason Wolf writes for The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal.
Posted by Massey Basketball