Second Time Around
When Doug Collins last coached in the NBA, Grant Hill was a high school junior, Boston had a real team, and Isiah Thomas probably didn't know a Raptor from a rapper. We're talking almost six years, folks, a veritable eon in the NBA. So why would the Pistons drag Collins out of mothballs at Turner Sports, where he has performed admirably as an analyst, and give him the job of replacing Don Chaney, who was fired as Detroit's coach on April 26? Or, more to the point, why would Collins, who was driven and insecure in his three years at the helm of the Bulls, want to leave his TV sinecure to take on the challenge of coping with today's touchy young multimillionaires?
"I've always said for me to get back into this, it would have to be the right place at almost the right time," Collins says. "It had to be with people who I felt would put their coach in a situation where players understood that he was the man in charge and in control."
Uh-oh. Does anybody see a problem already? Surely Collins noticed, during his sabbatical from the sidelines, that in today's NBA, most of the coaches dance to the players' tune. Still, he is confident that the game hasn't passed him by. "I don't think you lose your instincts," he says. "If anything, you continue to grow in watching different approaches to the game."
On the bright side, Collins inherits All-Star forward Hill (a teammate at Duke of Collins's son, Chris) and guards Allan Houston and Lindsey Hunter, a core of talented, eager young players who aren't prima donnas. But the Pistons are in dire need of help inside, especially if 300-pound center Oliver Miller continues to resemble Oliver Hardy. Collins concurs that "you can't win if you're getting outre-bounded and people are shooting 50 percent against you and you're giving up 129 points. So that has to change. From Day One, you make the guys aware that that's how it's going to be."
Tough talk, huh? Undoubtedly Collins is still bitter that after bringing the Bulls to the brink of the NBA title, he was fired following the 1988-89 season after losing both a tough six-game Eastern Conference final series to the Pistons and a power struggle with Chicago general manager Jerry Krause. To avoid a repeat in Detroit, Collins persuaded owner William Davidson and club president Tom Wilson to replace Billy McKinney, who had resigned as vice president of basketball operations, with somebody Collins is completely compatible with: himself. Like the Nuggets' Bernie Bickerstaff and the Bucks' Mike Dunleavy, Collins will have the final say on all basketball matters—assistants, scouts, draft picks and trades.
Team control is one thing, but what about self-control? Will Collins get involved in the kind of distracting feuds with players, assistants and the media that contributed to his demise in Chicago? Not if motivation counts for anything in Motown. "I know he still thinks about what happened in Chicago," says Hill. "Just talking to him, you can tell he's unbelievably hungry. And I think that's good. He's not content to be a coach. He wants to win."
With only seconds remaining in the Pacers' 90-82 Game 1 first-round win over the Hawks Thursday night in Market Square Arena, Indiana guard Reggie Miller jubilantly slapped hands with a young man sporting a shaved head who was sitting courtside—a fan who was really willing to be clipped for the privilege of sitting in one of those choice seats.
The baldy in question was Chris Shea, 27, a lifelong Pacer supporter who works at an Indianapolis machine shop. At around 5:50 p.m., he was watching the Channel 8 news while getting ready to attend the game, for which he had two $34 tickets in the nosebleed seats. The sportscaster pointed out that several Pacers—including Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, Vern Fleming, Derrick McKey and Sam Mitchell—had shaved their heads in preparation for the playoffs. Then he said that the station had two courtside tickets waiting for anybody who could get to the arena by 6:20 (about 40 minutes before tip-off) and would agree to shave his head. The hairy part of the deal: the razing had to take place on-camera.