Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was bawling his eyes out Saturday night at American Airlines Center. But for very good reasons.
Before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Pacers, the Mavs showed a video tribute to Carlisle on the Jumbotron that had Carlisle emotionally spent. The video was the Mavs’ way of thanking Carlisle for the 13 years he spent as their coach and for leading them to the 2011 NBA title.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Carlisle said. “The only other time I’ve felt that kind of emotional moment was when we raised the banner for the first game of the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12.
“It was the same kind of feeling, but I was not expecting anything like that. It was a wonderful gesture and much appreciated.”
Carlisle replaced Avery Johnson as the Mavs’ coach in 2008 and stayed until last summer when he left to become the coach of the Pacers. While Carlisle thanked everyone from owner Mark Cuban to then-general manager Donnie Nelson to ex-Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki and many, many others, he also mentioned Johnson by saying: “I just want to say also that Avery Johnson set the table for me to be able to come in here and have a 13-year amazing experience here.
“My years have been wide-ranging years of how the team has evolved.”
The video tribute lasted almost three minutes and chronicled the Mavs’ visit to the White House when they met then-President Barack Obama as he congratulated them on capturing the 2011 championship.
Carlisle said “a lot of things” got to him as he watched the video tribute.
“It’s really the combination of over a decade of amazing experiences,” he said. “Some of them were very tough and challenging.
“Other ones very exuberant – periods where it was difficult for extended periods of time during the rebuild and so on. It’s hard to reconcile the whole thing in one moment like that, but it was very nice. I did not anticipate anything quite like that.”
Carlisle praised the job his successor – Jason Kidd – has done in getting the Mavs to a 29-21 record and within one game of the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
“He’s done a tremendous job,” Carlisle said. “I thought he was a high impact coach in Brooklyn and Milwaukee. In Milwaukee they got things going that one year and then expectations raised and it kind of set up a situation where it’s just hard to control the expectations going forward.
“But his history here as a player that was drafted here, he’s a Hall of Fame player on a championship team here. I know the kind of warrior he is when it comes to winning. I know how smart he is. He’s done a tremendous job. They’ve made really great adjustments throughout the season.”
Kidd, of course, was Carlisle’s starting point guard during the Mavs’ 2011 championship season.
“Rick, for 13 years, (he had) an incredible run here,” Kidd said. “He set the bar high for the next coach or coaches, and so it’s good to see him. He helped all of us achieve that one goal that we play for, and that was to win a championship.
“He put the pieces out there, he trusted us and he put us in a position to win. So he gets a lot of credit for that, and he should, because it’s not easy to win a championship as a coach because the players are on the floor shooting or missing or blowing a defensive coverage. but he always kept his composure, he was always positive and trying to find a way to win.”
And speaking of winning, Carlisle gave the 2012-22 Mavs very high marks.
“They’re a major threat in the West,” he said. “They’re in a big-time groove.
“And again, they’re a real threat in the West and in the big picture. They’re doing some great things and they’re very, very hard to play.”
In addition, Carlisle is impressed by the offseason moves the Mavs made in acquiring Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina and Sterling Brown. He said that could soften the blow of recently losing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a fracture left foot, adding that he knows the Mavs will need Hardaway long-term.
“They’ve made smart acquisitions,” Carlisle said. “They made some moves that probably are viewed as smaller moves, but they’re real enhancers – Bullock and Ntilikina, Sterling Brown.
“The loss of Tim is going to be a big loss for a while, but they set the table with enough depth at the wing positions that they’ve got some defense-first guys that are going to really help their defensive numbers get better and better. So they’ve done a lot of things that are very good and are very smart.”
As far himself, Carlisle’s wife Donna, and his teenage daughter, Abby, have remained in Dallas so she could finish high school. He was able to spend Friday night at his home after the Pacers played in Oklahoma City and flew to Dallas.
Then, when Carlisle arrived at AAC, the memories started to engulf his body.
“Driving here today from the house, in so many ways I do remember this other locker room,” Carlisle said, referring to the visitor’s locker room. “I was actually coaching Detroit — it was the first game I ever coached as a head coach — and it was the opening game of this arena (in 2001).
“I sat in this very coach’s office, stepping into the unknown back then when (Michael) Finley and Dirk and (Steve) Nash and all those guys were out there. It was very memorable.”
It was even great for Carlisle to see point guard Luka Doncic, although he tormented the Pacers for 30 points, six rebounds, 12 assists and two blocks during Saturday’s 132-105 victory for the Mavs.
“If he’s not the best player in the world, he’s right on the cusp,” Carlisle said. “He’s just so, so good. I’ve always had such great respect for his talent and everything about his game and him as a person, too.
“I know what a good guy he is. I’ve seen a lot of that. He’s just gotten better in every way. Every year he’s just gotten better and better and better.”
Carlisle enjoyed a hug with Doncic and the other Mavs players, coaches and staff after the game.
“I was with him my first three years and learned a lot from him,” Doncic said. “So it was a special moment.
“The tribute was really special to him, too. You could see it. And he deserves it.”
Carlisle also gave kudos to forward Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered multiple injuries when he played for Carlisle and actually only played 11 minutes Saturday due to right knee soreness.
“It’s great to see KP healthy,” Carlisle said before the game. “He just looks like a different player this year.
“It was pretty clear that his offseason was one where he put in a tremendous amount of work. He finally had an offseason where he was healthy enough to do that. It’s manifest into such an improvement of the team’s overall game.”
Carlisle even tossed a few bouquets in the direction of the media.
“I was always very blessed that this was a media that really gave us a fair shot all the time,” he said. “I always appreciated it. It’s not always this way in every city.
“It was very fair. Tough at times, but not unfair. And that’s important.”
With that, Carlisle added: “It’s a little bit of an unusual day, but it’s great to be back. It’s great to see my family for a couple of days. This is now Jason’s time, it’s their time as a staff. They’ve got an amazing opportunity with a young nucleus that could go on a long run for a long time. That’s exciting for them.
“Being a small part of that foundation is meaningful to me and all the other coaches that have worked with me. A lot of blessings. This is a special place and it’s a challenging thing coming back like this and going through all that. But that’s it and everybody’s moving on.”
Everybody’s moving on after a night to remember, a night that will forever be etched in Carlisle’s memory bank.
“The tribute video was very emotional, you could tell,” forward Maxi Kleber said. “You saw it in (Carlisle’s) eyes. I think for everyone who played for him, it was an emotional moment.
“Just seeing what he has accomplished and what he has done for the team is such an amazing story. Seeing it up there on the screen and seeing his reaction was emotional for everyone I think – the fans, the team, for everyone who was a part of that.”
Share and comment