Mike Dunleavy had come a long way from Brooklyn. He was at the Harvard Club, in mid-town Manhattan, all leather chairs and low voices. He was there to tell NBA war stories to a couple dozen businessmen over lunch, fellow graduates of Nazareth Regional High in East Flatbush. Dunleavy played with Julius Erving and against Michael Jordan, and he coached Magic Johnson. He's an insider's insider. But in the middle of his talk, Dunleavy strayed from the pro game and made a passing comment about his son Mike Jr., then 17 years old. "He's tall, he's good, he's bright," the coach said. "You'll be seeing him." The men in the room knew Dunleavy, knew he was not a braggart. They took note.
That was two years ago, when Dunleavy was in his first season as coach of the Trail Blazers and his oldest son was a junior at Jesuit High, a private school in Portland. Big Mike, 45, is still coach of the Blazers, who at week's end had a 42-11 record, the best in the NBA. As for the kid, he's grown into more than an aside. Little Mike—who at 6'7" has a good four inches on his father—is a freshman at Duke, playing guard and forward. He's the first player off the bench, and through Sunday he was averaging 25.2 minutes, 9.5 points and 4.2 rebounds for the second-ranked Blue Devils. Though tests last weekend revealed that Mike Jr. has mononucleosis (he hopes to be back by the start of the ACC tournament on March 9), Mike Sr. was correct. You'll be seeing him—if you haven't already.
It doesn't always work out this way. Being the kid of the coach is like being the son of the minister. You're expected to be dutiful and perfect and follow in Dad's footsteps. Often, the expectations are too weighty and the son wanders off to find a career and an identity of his own. But in this case the son always loved what his father loved, and he was good at it too. Wherever Big Mike went, Little Mike went—to shootarounds, to practices, to games in college gyms and NBA arenas. Mike Jr. was forever on the floor or in the stands, watching, experimenting, dreaming. Mike Jr. will not be wandering off. "Saw your boy making a Dr. J move last night," a Portland player recently told his coach. "Where'd he learn that?"
Not from the old man. When Dunleavy left South Carolina with a degree in psychology and joined the Philadelphia 76ers as a sixth-round pick in 1976-77, his job was to take the charge, make the smart pass and hole the open jumper. He did that with high competence if not highlight-reel flair for nine seasons, averaging 8.1 points per game for four teams. After two years as a trader with a New York investment firm, he joined the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant; in the stretch runs of 1988-89 and '89-90 he even came out of retirement to help out in the backcourt. In his first season as a head coach, 1990-91, his Los Angeles Lakers reached the Finals, in which they lost to the Chicago Bulls. In those waning days of Showtime, Magic Johnson made two new friends: the Dunleavys, big and little.
"Little Mike wasn't your regular gym rat," Johnson says. "When the kids got chased off the court [at practice], they'd all scamper, but Mike would sit in the stands and study the game. When I see him playing now, I see a freshman with the court sense of a senior or an NBA rookie. He'll play in the league, no question. He's got Larry Bird's shot, my passing game and his father's smarts."
Dunleavy Jr. throws a Magical no-look pass and also hurls a Johnson-style baseline-to-baseline outlet bomb. He learned some other things from Johnson: that a shooter can rebound, that a big man can dribble, that life is fickle. Little Mike was 11 on that grim November day nine years ago when Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. Big Mike had learned the awful news the night before the world did. Johnson's agent, Lon Rosen, had gone over to the Dunleavys' house to tell him. Mike's wife, Emily, and their three boys, Mike Jr., Baker and James, were asleep. "When I told Mike, the only thing he worried about was Earvin," Rosen says. "What the loss of Earvin meant to his team—that was the furthest thing from his mind. Then, much later, he says, 'What am I going to tell the kids? What am I going to tell Mike [Jr.]?' "
The next day the father explained Johnson's plight as candidly and succinctly as he could. Magic was not so much Mike Jr.'s idol as his big buddy. Little Mike's first thought was that his big buddy would be dead in three or four years. He was terrified. The entire Dunleavy household sagged. "I remember Dad coming back after the press conference," Mike Jr. says. "He was wearing sunglasses in the house. He didn't want us to see his eyes. I had never seen him weep before. I tried to act like nothing was happening. I never want people to worry about me."
The Dunleavys are a tight unit. The parents say that frequent moves—Mike Jr. lived in a dozen houses before graduating from high school—have made the family members uncommonly reliant on one another. During the family's two years in Los Angeles, Little Mike and his brothers thought they were in heaven: The sun shone, the ocean glistened, their father was the coach of the Lakers. At the end of the 1991-92 season, though, father Dunleavy was handed a rare opportunity: an eight-year contract to be the coach and vice president of basketball operations back in Milwaukee, a city whose solid Midwestern values the Dunleavys knew well. The parents told the kids it was for the best, for everybody. Little Mike wasn't thrilled at the news. But he didn't fuss. He never did.
Mike Jr. enrolled at the University School of Milwaukee, an academically superior private school. All through middle school he excelled at soccer, football, basketball, tennis, baseball, his studies. He made friends. Everywhere he went, people were impressed by his poise, his intelligence, his manners. He took neither his privilege nor his talents for granted. "I'd see him at Bucks games," says Garry Howard, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He'd say, 'How are you, Mr. Howard?' And I was like, Whoa—from a coach's kid!"
All the while, another dimension of the boy was developing. The kid's polish and manners masked a grittiness that his father had developed on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, that his paternal grandfather had brought over from Ireland. Little Mike knew early on that he didn't want to be another suburban rich kid with a pretty jumper but no heart, and he did all that he could to make sure of that. People who play tennis with Mike Jr. on Nantucket—Emily Dunleavy's Texas family has been spending summers on the island since World War I—say he is a bull terrier. Like his father, he has to win, no matter what he's playing.