Garfield Heard, 51, was described yesterday as a humble man who is respected by players for his honest approach with them and his knowledge of the game. Washington Wizards guard Tim Legler, who played for the Wizards' new coach when he took over the Dallas Mavericks on an interim basis in 1993 and coached them to a 9-44 record, said after Heard's introduction as coach at MCI Center that "the fact he doesn't think that he invented everything about the game, he's flexible, you can talk to him" is "something the players respect."
"He came into a situation where we were by far the youngest team in the league, we didn't have an extremely talented roster," Legler said of their Dallas experience together. "At the time we were getting embarrassed, we were the laughingstock. What he did was take a hopeless situation and give guys hope. He made us feel confident about ourselves. We ended up beating some playoff teams down the stretch."
When the Mavericks named Quinn Buckner coach for the 1993-94 season (his record was 13-69), Heard began a five-year stint as assistant to Larry Brown, four years in Indiana and 1997-98 in Philadelphia. Heard spent last season, his 12th as an NBA assistant, as the top aide to Alvin Gentry, who led the Detroit Pistons into the playoffs in his first full season as their head coach. Heard said he moved to Detroit with the blessing of Brown, who believed Heard could be of more assistance to the inexperienced Gentry.
"Alvin and I are good friends and Coach Brown coached both of us," Heard said. "We sat down and talked about it and we all felt that he needed an experienced guy on the bench who's been around. Coach Brown, Alvin and myself decided that maybe I was the best guy for that position."
Gentry said at the time: "He is one of the most respected guys in the NBA. He's a hard worker and has great knowledge of the pro game. He has played and he has been in pressure situations."
Heard, one of four children, grew up in Hogansville, Ga., near the Alabama border. He averaged 29 points and 25 rebounds in high school before playing for Oklahoma under John MacLeod. Heard averaged 15.7 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Sooners, leading them in scoring (21.8) and rebounding (12.5) as a senior, when he made all-Big Eight.
Seattle picked Heard in the third round of the 1970 draft and he later played for Chicago, Buffalo, Phoenix and San Diego during a career of 11 seasons. The 6-foot-6, 219-pounder played in the playoffs seven seasons. Heard averaged 8.7 points and 7.5 rebounds in regular season play, and 10.2 points and 9.1 rebounds in 59 playoff games. He also was an excellent shot-blocker.
Heard is best known for a desperation, 18-foot jump shot that enabled the Phoenix Suns to force the Boston Celtics into the first of three overtimes in Game 5 of the 1976 Finals. Boston eventually won the game at Boston Garden, 128-126, and Game 6 in Phoenix to win the title. The Celtics' John Havlicek made a bank shot with two seconds remaining in regulation for the apparent Game 5 winner. But with one second on the clock, Suns guard Paul Westphal suggested that MacLeod, then coaching the Suns, call a timeout he didn't have, thereby drawing a technical foul. After Boston's JoJo White sank the free throw to give Boston a 112-110 lead, the ball was inbounded at mid-court, giving Heard the chance to make his memorable shot.
"The thing I remember is not so much wondering if the ball was going in, but did I get the shot off in time," Heard later recalled. "It was really a catch-and-shoot situation. I don't think Boston really expected me to take the last shot, but Coach MacLeod knew that I could do it because it wasn't the first time I had taken the last shot of the game for him. I remember when I played for him at Oklahoma hitting one at the buzzer to beat Iowa State."
After retiring as a player in 1981, Heard was out of the game four years before serving two seasons as a volunteer assistant with Arizona State. In 1987, he was hired as an assistant by MacLeod, then coach of the Mavericks. Heard said that he learned "organization" from MacLeod and the concept of "teaching" from Brown. Heard said that as the Wizards' coach he would stress the importance of rebounding and team defense.
Heard said he planned to "uptempo our defense," adding: "I know what it takes to make a winner." Of finally becoming a permanent head coach after a long wait, Heard said: "I knew it would come."