Work in Sports
'Heart of gold'
Musselman eulogized in memorial service
Posted: Monday May 15, 2000 09:44 PM
TUALATIN, Ore. (AP) -- Everyone had a story about Bill Musselman, and they all painted a vivid picture of the late coach: a leather-tough, fiercely loyal man who cared even more about people than basketball.
Musselman, a Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach for the last three years of his 28 years in the business, died May 5 in Rochester, Minn., a month after being diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. He was 59.
Musselman coached at Ashland in northern Ohio from 1965-1971 and was head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1980-82.
A few dozen friends, relatives, coaches, players and front-office executives gathered Monday to eulogize "Muss" at a memorial service inside a small church about a block from the Trail Blazers' practice facility.
Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said he called Musselman "Popeye," because of his "tough exterior, but yet that heart of gold."
"I'm just sorry the spinach ran out," Dunleavy said. "I love him, and I miss him."
In the church lobby, a large picture of Musselman on the Blazers' bench was surrounded by handwritten messages. Dunleavy walked up and wrote, "Coach, you'll always be a part of us."
Dunleavy recalled the first time he ever saw the short, blond-haired Musselman in action. It was during Musselman's tenure as the first coach of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves, when Dunleavy was coaching the Lakers. With the T'wolves losing, Musselman tried to motivate his team by sitting down in front of the scorer's table, as if he would check into the game himself to do the work his players were not.
Blazers president and general manager Bob Whitsitt learned of Musselman's loyalty to his players in the early 1980s, when Musselman was coaching the Cleveland and Whitsitt the assistant GM at Indiana. The Pacers were trying to trade for a Cavs player, and the two men got together over All-Star weekend to discuss it.
After meeting earlier in the day, Musselman called Whitsitt at his hotel room at 2 a.m. Musselman talked up the player for 90 minutes. Then he stopped.
"He said, 'We can't trade you this guy,'" Whitsitt said. "End of discussion."
None of the 10 Portland players in attendance -- Detlef Schrempf, Steve Smith, Brian Grant, Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Stacey Augmon, Jermaine O'Neal, Gary Grant, Joe Kleine and Antonio Harvey -- spoke at the service.
Former Blazer Mychal Thompson, who played one season for Musselman at the University of Minnesota in 1974-75, said Musselman was hard-nosed and fair -- and completely committed to winning.
"If they have a basketball court in heaven, Lord help them, because he's probably putting them through those five- or six-hour practices we had to go through," Thompson said.
Musselman's wife, Julie, said her husband loved "Gummi Bears, Haagen-Dazs and chocolate eclairs" as well as basketball and his family.
"In 59 years, he packed more living and loving in than most people would ever get in 200," she said.
Musselman's son Eric, an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic, was too emotional to speak at his father's funeral in Wooster, Ohio, last week. He composed himself just long enough Monday to talk about how basketball brought them closer together.
"I can't remember a day when I didn't talk to my father," Eric said. "The conversation usually revolved around basketball but always ended with 'I love you.'"