In the NBA, retiring is only a prelude to returning
Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2005 3:42PM; Updated: Wednesday December 14, 2005 6:31PM
Stan Van Gundy shouldn't have as much to yell about now that he's concentrating on coaching his kids, not the Heat.
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Former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy now appears to have his priorities in order. At an age when most NBA coaches are hitting their stride, Van Gundy, 46, is calling it quits, abruptly resigning this week as coach of the Heat after 2 1/4 seasons.
His plan is to spend more time with a family with whom -- between travel, practices and games -- he was only going to spend an estimated 49 days this season. While 49 days at home with the wife and kids might seem like hard time to some, for Van Gundy the hard times came when he looked up into the American Airlines Arena stands and saw his 11-year-old son, Michael, waving to him in the distance. Or when his eldest child --14-year-old daughter Shannon -- celebrated another birthday, reminding him of the few years he has left with her until she leaves the nest.
"I can't believe that people have a big problem believing that someone would actually want to spend time with their family," Van Gundy said at his farewell news conference. "I don't know why that's so hard to buy into."
Perhaps because we've seen it before, seen the coach or player leave the sporting stage to spend more time at home, only to roll our eyes at the speed at which family soon retakes its place behind coaching or playing.
Almost six years ago to the day, Danny Ainge reached a similar crossroad when he resigned as coach of the Phoenix Suns to spend more time with his wife, Michelle, and their six children. When one of his sons (then a teenager) chided him for becoming too distant, "I couldn't disagree with him," Ainge said then. "It really [came] down to wanting to make a statement to my family that they are more important than my career."
That lasted three years, at which point Ainge reunited with his other family, the Boston Celtics (the team he called home for eight seasons as a player), as its executive director of basketball operations.
When Ainge resigned in Phoenix, he entrusted the Suns to his top assistant, Scott Skiles, who at 35 became the NBA's youngest head coach. In the six years since, Skiles has stopped working only once -- not that it was by choice. (He was forced out after a 25-26 record in 2002.) Last year he led the Chicago Bulls to their first playoff berth since Michael Jordan left the building.
And both times His Airness left the building, it was for the family -- or so he told us. When Jordan first retired in 1993, he regretted having not left sooner, admitting that his father, James, had urged him to hang 'em up after the Bulls had won their first title two years earlier. "Now that I'm here, it's time to be a little unselfish in terms of spending more time with my wife and kids," Jordan said. The following spring he was in Birmingham, Ala., shagging flies for the Barons before rejoining the Bulls near the end of the '94-95 season.