One example of how far the NBA has come in public recognition occurred this morning at the hotel housing the league meetings.
An elderly couple was having breakfast in the coffee shop when Stan Albeck, the new coach of the Chicago Bulls, sat down at an adjoining table. After the two argued about his identity, the man approached Albeck.
"We're from down in Tennessee and we just wanted to shake your hand," he said. "My wife said it was you but I didn't believe her. I should have known better -- she stays up all night watching you guys play on the television." Commenting on his new job with the Bulls and the reported multimillion dollar offer made to Villanova University Coach Rollie Massimino to succeed him with the New Jersey Nets, Albeck said, "I wish I was still there if they're offering that kind of money.
"I must be the best guy in the world for another coach to follow. I left San Antonio for New Jersey and Cotton (Fitzsimmons) gets $275,000. I leave New Jersey and they give the next guy a $2 million offer." One of the more interesting sights here is the reaction from people in the league to Bernie Bickerstaff and Matty Guokas, former assistant coaches with Washington and Philadelphia, respectively, now head coaches with Seattle and the 76ers. Both enjoy an increased element of respect, judging from the tone of voice that others use when addressing them.
"I know I've come a long way, but I've been the same up to now so there's no reason for me to change," said Bickerstaff, the first black coach in the league who never played in the NBA. "I've seen too many people get something and forget where they came from. I'm from Benham, Ky. -- there's no way that will happen to me." There are some coaches who are a little upset with Los Angeles Lakers Coach Pat Riley and comments he made during the NBA finals against the Boston Celtics.
Riley said charges that he's a coach of style but little substance mainly were a result of "envy on the part of some of my peers in the coaching profession."
One of those peers, who wished to remain unnamed, said, "I couldn't believe he said those things. All that does is set him up for trouble whenever he plays teams next season. He's got such a good situation, all he needed to do was stay humble. Besides, where would he be if Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or Magic (Johnson) were to go down?"
Probably in the same situation as Paul Westhead, Riley's predecessor with the Lakers. Fired less than two seasons after winning the 1980 NBA championship, Westhead is trying to get back into the league as an assistant coach.
Westhead's attempts have been unsuccessful. One possible reason was offered by a league source who said that people remember Westhead as being uncommunicative during his final season with the Lakers. "It just got to the point where he thought he was bigger than the team, and you can't have that," he said.