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The New York night was smoky as always, fed with a chill and a smell around 34th Street that the New Boy in Town was not used to. He came out into it alone, across the street and down the block to Madison Square Garden, where a man in uniform held out his arm, barring entrance.
"You got a pass?" the man said.
"No, I'm the coach," the New Boy said.
"Yeah, and I'm the President of the United States," the guard said. "Get outta here."
"No, no. I'm really the coach," Dick Motta said.
"I asked him after a few minutes, 'Hey, you really the coach?' " the guard said later. "He said he was. I figger anybody that has enough gall to say he is, must be. I let him go. He was O.K."
On that opening day of the season in New York, when a coffee-shop waiter told him to get his feet off the booth, when after the game another waiter told him to keep his sport coat on and still once more when a cab driver slipped him a counterfeit ten for change, the coach felt abused. He had come from a world of vast mountains and open valleys, where a man, even if he is a basketball coach, drives a pickup truck to work and hikes with the kids on weekends. Now he was in the land of concrete, amid bright lights and dark soot, and he was being pushed around by the little masters of the urban sneer.
Afterwards he talked about that first day. It was clear then that, in the bad moments as with the more important times inside on the courts, Dick Motta, the New Boy in the NBA, has enough gall. He will be O.K.
A short, freshly scrubbed and soft-spoken man of 36, Motta appears so young he could be the school crossing guard down the street. To the anticipation of absolutely nobody, he was plucked off the campus of little Weber State College in Ogden, Utah last summer to coach the Bulls after a series of circumstances at both ends—the Windy City and the Big Sky Country—had combined to make him eligible.