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THIS JOKER IS WILD
Bruce Newman
November 07, 1988
The Nuggets' Doug Moe, the NBA Coach of the Year, doesn't diagram plays or watch many game films
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November 07, 1988

This Joker Is Wild

The Nuggets' Doug Moe, the NBA Coach of the Year, doesn't diagram plays or watch many game films

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Despite Moe's tirades, he's generally well liked by his players, who indulgently allow for the fact that his brain leaves his body during games. "When Doug gets on you, his voice cuts through to your soul," Vandeweghe once said. "If you play poorly, he'll yell and scream and hate you during the game. But after the game you can still be the best of friends."

Unlike most coaches, Moe never holds grudges and rarely belittles his players in the press—an exception to this rule being forward Bill Hanzlik. Hanzlik, a kamikaze defensive player whom Moe once described as suffering from "brain lock," insisted on participating in training camp drills before last season despite having undergone back surgery in the off-season. "You know Hanzlik," said Moe appreciatively. "He's got nothing from the neck up. He's both stupid and amazing."

"At least I've got something from the neck down," replied Hanzlik. "Doug has nothing anywhere."

Actually Moe seems to have more than enough from the chin up and the nose down to keep the world both stupefied and amazed for the foreseeable future. It's safe to say he has never lost a minute's sleep worrying about saying the right thing. When the Nuggets barely qualified for the playoffs in 1987 and had to face Los Angeles in the first round, Moe—instead of going through the usual motions of outlining ways his team could upset the Lakers—announced before the series began that Denver had "no shot." When L.A. won the second game, Moe was stunned to learn that Lakers coach Pat Riley had angrily called his remarks a "discredit" to the Lakers because they indicated Moe wasn't taking the playoffs "seriously" enough.

Moe was bewildered. "I'm not supposed to say what everybody knows just because I'm the coach?" he says. "It's astonishing to me that I can call a team great, outstanding, too good for us to beat, and have them take it as an insult.... There's an ego involved somewhere along the line there.... Pat Riley needs a little humility." Denver had been hammered again, 139-127, in Game 2, playing so poorly, according to Moe, "even we could have beaten us." The Lakers completed the sweep with a 140-103 blowout, which left Moe feeling perversely vindicated and Riley still angry. "I have tremendous respect for Doug Moe as a coach," he says. "We're just from two different planets."

Echoing Riley, Bristow says, "Sometimes I have to remind Doug what world he's in." Anyone found taking himself too seriously on Moe's planet is fair game for his lacerating—and usually hilarious—attacks. One of his most frequent targets has been Hubie Brown, the former coach of the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks, whom Moe invited to appear on his weekly television show after feuding publicly with Brown for years. "Hubie would always say he was on an island [with Dick Motta and Jack Ramsay] and all the other coaches were garbage," Moe says. "So I'd tell people that if I had his record, I'd get out of coaching."

Moe doesn't spend a lot of time diagramming his pet sideline out-of-bounds play on his TV show, and with Brown he cut right to the chase. He reminded Brown how they had gotten to know each other in the ABA, when Moe would break up shouting matches between Hubie, who was coaching the Kentucky Colonels, and Larry Brown (no relation, no relationship) by loudly telling Larry, "Don't listen to that jerk." Sitting a few feet from Hubie in the TV studio, Moe turned to Brown and said, "You don't mind if I call you a jerk, do you?"

"You've done it in bigger places than this show," Brown replied.

Moe, who views himself as "a rinky-dink" in the grand scheme of things, was once accused by the league of undermining the integrity of the game, a charge that made him feel so important when he heard about it that he might have refuted it if it hadn't been for the honor of the thing.

It all happened during and after a game with Portland in 1983. Ramsay, an intensely serious man who has won more NBA games than any other active coach, was then coaching the Trail Blazers. He became infuriated when Moe instructed his team to just stand still and not play any defense in the final 1:12 of a blowout loss to the Blazers. Moe felt that the Nuggets had barely bothered to play defense for most of the game anyway, and when he found out that Portland was going for a franchise scoring record, he decided to let the Blazers have it. Every time Portland got the ball, the Nuggets simply stepped aside and allowed a basket. After the game Ramsay complained.

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