As if working for the league's most beleaguered franchise weren't concern enough, Mike Dunleavy had another reason to think long and hard last summer before he accepted the Clippers' coaching job: Four times a year he would have to face his son Mike Jr., a second-year forward for the Warriors. "Those few games," says Mike Sr., "it's going to be.... Well, I don't know how it's going to be." His uncertainty is understandable because never in NBA history has a father coached against his son.
Competition between family members in pro sports has often yielded uncomfortable affairs fraught with conflicting emotions. (See Venus versus Serena.) And the Dunleavys have an exceptionally tight father-son bond. "I probably know him—and his game—better than anyone," says the dad. It will only add to the tension that both Mikes are in precarious positions professionally: Junior is trying to gain traction after a disappointing rookie season in which he averaged only 5.7 points and 2.6 rebounds after being taken third in the draft out of Duke; Senior is the latest helmsman of the Clippers' constantly wayward ship after being let go in May, 2001, by the Trail Blazers. "It's going to be different from any other game," says Dunleavy fils. "I do know that."
They'll meet for the first time on Nov. 18 in Oakland. "I know my mom is going to be pulling for me," says Mike Jr. "At least I've got her on my side." Responds Mike Sr., "I already told him, 'You better work on your weaknesses.' "
So how do you coach against your flesh and blood? How do you convince yourself that the small forward you're trying to shut down is just another 6'9" shooter, not someone whose diapers you changed? "It's going to be different, lots of mixed emotions, but the bottom line is you play to win," says Mike Sr. "We're going to scout him and prepare for him like we would anyone else." And if his kid lights it up? "We'll probably switch defenders and make him give it up," he says. "But just thinking about it, yeah, it's going to be an interesting dynamic."
Dunleavy Sr. is so sensitive to the dynamic that he withdrew his name for the Golden State job in 2002 immediately after the team drafted his son. "With me coming in and him being a rookie, that would have been a whole can of worms," says Mike Sr. "I'm sure [management] felt the same way." On the other hand, in the likely event that Mike Jr. becomes a more established player, his dad would like nothing more than to be his coach. "That could be terrific," says Mike Sr. "Obviously because he's my son, but also because he's a heck of a team player. Every coach wants that."