Rick Carlisle was born to coach, even when it meant putting somebody in an uncomfortable position.
How else can you explain a sportswriter ending up in Carlisle’s hotel room in Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve, 2010? With his pants off.
Don’t worry, it’s not what you might be thinking.
What it was, though, was the sort of drastic measure that needed to be taken. When Carlisle saw me limping out of an establishment across the street from the team’s hotel, he knew he had to do something.
After having tripped over a curb a few days earlier in Oklahoma City, my left knee had swelled up and moving it, not to mention walking, was problematic, to say the least.
Carlisle, as fate would have it, had just had his knee worked on a few weeks earlier and was still doing rehab.
My cell phone rang and Carlisle said to come up to his room. Hey, when you’re the beat writer and the coach says meet him in the hotel room, you go.
Carlisle immediately told me to take off my pants and he handed me an ice-water circulation gizmo that froze my calf, knee and thigh for about 20 minutes. He said I’d thank him afterward.
Not being the most coachable person in the world, I was hesitant. But eventually I got the therapy going and, sure enough, Carlisle’s strategy worked. By the next day at the game, I was able to get around without being in severe pain every time I took a step.
He coached me back to health, even if it took coaching me out of my pants.
Carlisle had 13 seasons of pulling levers, pushing buttons and devising schemes – all with the aim of winning games for the Mavericks.
The 15th-winningest coach in NBA history announced his decision on Thursday to leave the Mavericks. He’s been head coach since 2008 and while the decision seemed abrupt, it probably was something he had thought about deeply for some time.
“Rick informed me today about his decision to step down as head coach,” said owner Mark Cuban. “On top of being a tremendous basketball coach, he was also a friend and a confidant. Rick helped us bring the O’Brien Trophy to Dallas and those are memories I will always cherish. I want to thank Rick for all he gave this franchise and this city. We wish him all the best.”
Carlisle leaves as the winningest coach in Mavs’ history with a 555-478 record (53.7 percent). His teams made the playoffs nine times in 13 seasons and produced the franchise’s only championship in 2011. He guided teams that were led by Dirk Nowitzki, then endured three down seasons before the drafting of Luka Dončić helped put the organization back on an upward trajectory.
He had strong communication skills with his players and was well-connected in the coaching fraternity as president of the National Basketball Coaches Association.
And he worked well with others, including members of the media. Naturally, there are a few stories through the years.
Memphis was the stop on the road where Carlisle and I spent the most time together.
We’d often have lunch after shootaround at B.B. King’s on Beale Street. Once in a while, we’d venture off to a different barbecue spot, but usually, it was B.B. King’s for a slab of ribs and lots of iced tea, extra ice.
It was at those lunches that we’d talk about the families, the music we were listening to and, if time permitted, whatever was going on with his team.
Carlisle may look like he’s all business at games, but he knows how to relax. And he enjoyed a good rack of ribs.
At 61, Carlisle’s coaching days probably are not done. He’ll be a hot candidate for any of the several openings around the NBA.
His legacy in Dallas will obviously be the championship. Someday when he goes into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, he deserves to do so as a Maverick.
The 2011 season was enough to etch him onto the Mount Rushmore of Dallas area coaches.
It took more guts than anybody can imagine to tweak the starting lineup in the finals against Miami, putting in J.J. Barea for DeShawn Stevenson. Barea was coming off a six-point, 2-for-8 shooting night in Game 3.
But the Mavericks would not lose again in the finals after Carlisle made the change.
After the Game 6 clincher, Carlisle left the after-party early and got back to the Miami hotel about the time the army of writers got finished working.
Carlisle texted to come to his hotel room. He said he had a cold beer. That was enough incentive after a long, stressful worknight.
Carlisle wasn’t the carefree character like Don Nelson or Rudy Tomjanovich – other coaches that I have had the privilege of covering.
But he appreciated honesty and would help reporters who did their job without bias as much as he could. And he had very little tolerance for the occasional drop-in, usually by a TV reporter, who thought he would hit the coach with a deep-probing question.
“Who the hell are you?” Carlisle might respond.
It was an endearing quality for those of us lucky enough to cover him for the last 13 years.