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'A hard situation'

Blazers mourn death of Musselman

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Posted: Friday May 05, 2000 07:33 PM

  Mike Dunleavy Portland head coach Mike Dunleavy shows the emotion felt by the Trailblazers over the loss of assistant.Bill Mussleman. AP

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- They sat listless in the front rows of the Rose Garden, grudgingly rising to go through a halfhearted practice. Their coach did all he could to fight back tears.

The Portland Trail Blazers are right in the middle of the playoffs, but on Friday all they could think about was the death of popular assistant coach Bill Musselman.

"It's a hard situation, because he was a great, great man," reserve guard Greg Anthony said as he left the abbreviated workout. "It's humbling. I'm just going to go home and mourn and reflect a little bit."

Musselman, 59, died early Friday of heart and kidney failure. He had been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer after a stroke in late October and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., last month. He died at the clinic's St. Marys Hospital.

"I think that he played this out on his own terms, the way he wanted to go," Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said, his voice quavering. "(It was) probably best to not have to suffer through the agony and the pain that he was going to have to go through with this disease."

The Blazers begin the second round of the playoffs on Sunday against either Seattle or Utah. They advanced by defeating Musselman's old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves -- a series the Portland players dedicated to him.

Before his condition deteriorated in recent days, Musselman had showed signs of improving, and he talked of trying to make Game 4 in Minneapolis on Tuesday night. But Musselman's doctors wouldn't clear him to attend the game, and after the Blazers came back from nine points down in the fourth quarter to win 85-77, the team signed a ball for their ailing coach and delivered it to him at the hospital.

"Just the last few days for coach had been good ones -- our team winning, getting a team ball and talking to our players," Dunleavy said.

The Blazers were informed of Musselman's death Friday morning, before they arrived at the Rose Garden. Dunleavy was the only member of the team made available to the media.

Dunleavy said he had spoken with Musselman's wife, Julie.

"She's doing unbelievably well. It's surprising how strong she's been through this," he said.

Blazers president and general manager Bob Whitsitt said he will sorely miss the scrappy 28-year coaching veteran known as "Muss."

"Bill was a valued member of our family," Whitsitt said in a statement released by the Blazers.

During Musselman's illness, he "never uttered a word of self-pity, never said 'why me' or 'it's not fair,'" Whitsitt said.

The statement also quoted Musselman's son, Eric, an assistant with the Orlando Magic.

"He was a great father. But more than that, he was my best friend. It is a comfort to our family to know that he was loved by so many. We will miss him dearly."

Musselman was one of five assistants to Dunleavy, but Dunleavy relied heavily on Musselman's experience and rapport with the players. Musselman took over the head coaching duties on the rare occasions when Dunleavy got ejected or was ill.

Musselman, whose specialty was defense, filled in after Dunleavy was tossed from an exhibition game against Phoenix on Oct. 28. The Blazers went on to win 89-77, but later that night Musselman collapsed.

He'd had a stroke, which later was attributed to the bone cancer. Musselman worked furiously to rehabilitate himself, exercising two hours a day at a Portland hospital and doing voice exercises.

Within weeks he was back with the Blazers. He did not actively take part in game preparation, preferring to sit behind the bench. But he did scouting and attended every practice.

Musselman made a complete recovery from the stroke, but soon started losing energy. The cancer was diagnosed April 7. Doctors thought they had detected the disease in time, which is why his death came as such a shock.

"I'm lucky, in a way," Musselman said in mid-April. "The doctors told me it probably would have been two more years before there was any indication of the cancer, if they hadn't been checking me so close because of the stroke. Now I'm going to beat this."


 
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