Bernie Bickerstaff, Washington Bullet assistant coach, flew to San Diego last night to seek the job of head coach of the new San Diego Braves of the National Basketball Association.
Irving Lebvin, San Diego owner, said he has someone in mind for the job, though, and it is not Bickerstaff.
"I have a first choice in mind and Levin said. "I can tell you only that the man I want is a winner, a very well-organized, proven coach.
"As far as Bernie Bickerstaff is concerned, I know he is a fine basketball man, but I don't know much more about him. Right now I'm concerned with signing my first choice in the next few days. If that doesn't work out, then I'll look into other things."
Bickerstaff is obviously hoping things don't work out with Levin's first choice and that those "other things" include him.
"This is the first thing I've gone afI'm really going after it," said Bickerstaff, who has been the Bullet assistant coach for five years.
They are trying to get a program started out there and it's just a natural for me. I had planned to go to San Diego later in the week to visit some friends and relatives, but I'm going out early to investigate the situation. I want to be there and make it known that I want the job.
"I might not feel so strongly about the job if it weren't in San Diego, but that's where I played ball and started coaching and everything. Like I said, it's a natural for me. I'm qualified to be a head coach and I'm ready and now it looks like there is an ideal place for me."
The Braves were in Buffalo until last week when the NBA board of governors voted to move them to San Diego and approved a switch in ownership between John Y. Brown of the Braves and Levin of the Boston Celtics. The board also voted to realign the league.
Cotton Fitzsimmons coached the Braves last season, but he has moved to the Kansas City Kings.
Bickerstaff said he hasn't talked with Levin or anyone from the Braves yet, but added that a number of people are working as intermediaries for him.
"I think I have a legitimate chance to get the job," Bickerstaff said. "But I won't have anything to feel bad about if I don't get it because it will have to be for reasons other than that I wasn't qualified.
Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry agrees.
"Bernie is definitely head coaching material," Ferry said. "I've observed him closely over the past five years and I know what he can do. He's been under two excellent coaches in K.C. (Jones) and Dick (Motta) and he adjusted to two completely different coaching styles.
"I've seen him conduct practices and run the team and I've sat through some theory sessions with him. I feel very comfortable recommending him for a head coaching job.
"I think he will be a fine NBA Coach, but I have absolutely no idea of what chance he might have to get the San Diego job."
Ferry added that the Bullets would not hold Bickerstaff to the last year of his contract if he were offered a head coacing job.
"I would never hold an assistant coach back," Ferry said. "When a guy has a chance to move on and take an advancement, you have to let him go. That's the reason you hire a person like Bernie in the first place, so that hopefully he will go on to become a head coach.
"Even if Bernie doesn't get the San Diego job, or any other head job, it won't affect his position here. We want him to stay, but we also want him to be a head coach if that's what he wants."
If Bickerstaff has a drawback, it is that he never played in the NBA, but neither did Motta and all he did - with Bickerstaff's help - was lead the Bullets to the world championship this last season.
Where Bickerstaff may be short on playing experience, at 34, he has had more than enough coaching experience to make up for it.
Originally from Benham, Ky., Bickerstaff played at the University of San Diego and had tryout with the Houston Rockets before trying out for and making the Harlem Globetrotters team. Just before the first Globetrotter game, however, Bickerstaff decided to go back to San Diego to get his degree.
At 24, he became assistant coach at the school and, at 25, became its head coach, making him the youngest major college head coach in the nation.
Four years later, he came to Washington as K.C. Jones' assistant and was the youngest assistant coach in the NBA.
Jones was fired after three seasons, but the new Bullet coach, Motta, kept Bickerstaff.
For the past two summers, Bickerstaff has coached in the Puerto Rican summer league. His team won the league championship two years ago and lost the tilte in the seventh game of the final playoffs last year.
Bickerstaff was also coach of the Puerto Rican national team that won a silver medal in last summer's Caribbean Games in Panama City.
"San Diego is trying to put something together and I have played vital part in the coaching and decision-making and everything we have done here with the Bullets. I know what it's like to build a winner" Bickerstaff said.
"You can look at the record and see that over the last five years, the Bullets have had the best overall record in the NBA," he added.