The serene and affluent elegance of the century-old Hotel del Coronado stood in high contrast to the rough-edged state of the league itself as the National Basketball Association began its annual meetings with an awards luncheon this afternoon.
The league has a team with two arena leases and no city to call its own, an MVP without a team, and worries about drug use among its players. Those problems were not supposed to intrude on the ceremonies today--but little reminders kept appearing.
Bullets Coach Gene Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry were among those honored at the luncheon, with Shue named NBA coach of the year for the second time in his career. Ferry was honored as executive of the year.
The last anyone saw of Shue in San Diego, he was finishing out a year that "went to hell" when Larry O'Brien divested the team of most of its holdings in exchange for Bill Walton, whose play was limited by order of his physician. Amid the public negotiating in June 1980, Ferry stole in and took Shue back home.
"Someone said something in the papers about my being fired when I left here," Shue said. "That was not the case at all. (Former Clippers owner Irv) Levin and I just didn't work out the right kind of contract.
"When I joined the Bullets, I was aware that some of the players were aging, that a transition was coming up. We had unusual success with that transition, though--everything simply happened in a positive way. Receiving this award is a great honor--I'm a product of the NBA. It's been my life."
Shue was previously coach of the year with the then-Baltimore Bullets in 1969. He is the second coach to be so honored twice; Bill Fitch won the award in 1976 with Cleveland and in 1980 with Boston.
In this year's voting by the media, Doug Moe of Denver finished second and Larry Brown of New Jersey third.
Certainly no one expected Shue's crew to reach the second round of the playoffs. Spencer Haywood and Jeff Ruland came home, with conviction. John Lucas came and went and came and went. Shue has nothing if not a strong reputation for appreciation of life on the fringe. In San Diego, he put Lloyd Free on the road to World status.
And thus his patience with Lucas, who during the season admitted he had cocaine problems, should come as no surprise.
"Bob (Ferry) and I are in complete accord," he said. "I thought we did it all just right with John. In coaching you naturally run into that problem--players who have talent and certain problems. You have to adjust your thinking as you go along. You have to treat each player differently."
"That's what it's all about," Ferry said, "bringing a lot of imperfect people together and making them succeed.
"A lot of the handling of Lucas was not a coach or a general manager relationship. It was a human being problem. It was deeper than basketball. I'm especially proud of the way we stood by him, and I hope it all works out. Hopefully, he'll be cured of his problems."
Thus the presence of Carl Eller, now the director of a drug rehabilitation program in Minneapolis and at one time a heavy user of cocaine. He will address a joint meetingThursday evening.
Another reminder of the league's status came today when Houston center Moses Malone accepted his MVP trophy, saying, "I'm the only guy to win an award who hasn't got a job."
As New Jersey's Buck Williams, a former star at Maryland, accepted his rookie of the year trophy he said, "I didn't think it would all happen this fast, but winning rookie of the year was my goal."
Gus Williams of Seattle accepted his trophy signifying comeback of the year, and Ferry accepted a bucket of beer in lieu of an absent trophy before the coaches and general managers convened for more meetings.
On the trade front, Denver Coach Doug Moe met Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkins to discuss David Thompson's possible move to the coast.
Regarding the Clippers' proposed move to Los Angeles, it is obvious that with owner Donald Sterling holding a lease on two sports arenas, something must soon give.