In the tumult at Capital Centre after underdog Washington had knocked Philadelphia out of the NBA playoffs, you could see a man letting himself go at mid-court, spinning around, beaming, thrusting his fists in the air, oblivious of the swarm of people around him. This dervish in mufti was Dick Motta, coach of the Bullets. His players had bolted for the serenity of the locker room, but not Motta. He was savoring the moment, celebrating it as enthusiastically as any Washington fan.
And why not? In 10 years Motta has won more games than any coach in NBA history except the renowned Reds, Auerbach and Holzman, but he had never made it to the playoff finals. Now, at age 46, he finally had a shot at coaching an NBA championship team. Surely, as he exulted at midcourt in Landover, Md., he was enjoying the greatest moment of his career.
But last week, before flying to Seattle where his Bullets would blow a big lead and lose the first game against the Sonics 106-102, Motta said that winning the NBA East would not go right to the top of memory lane. "My last year coaching at Grace Senior High in Grace, Idaho," he said, "we won the southern championship and had a week off before playing Potlatch for the state championship. That whole week was the greatest time of my life. Pep rallies every day, team lunches—it was great. Then we went up to Pocatello and won the thing."
Motta is an anomaly among coaches. He says he is not even sure that beating Seattle for the NBA championship would displace the Idaho memory. He means it. For all the blood he has spilled in the NBA, Motta is still a seventh-grade teacher and high school coach at heart.
When Chicago Bull General Manager Dick Klein plucked him off the campus of Weber State in 1968, Motta had experienced little of the world. He had grown up in Utah, the son of a poor immigrant Italian truck farmer and a Mormon mother, and had never attended a pro game. He hardly knew what to expect at his first Chicago press conference, least of all the line the questioning took:
"Where'd you coach before?"
" Weber State."
"You a Mormon?"