DENVER – Rick Adelman has been following the Denver Nuggets extra closely this season. No surprise there. His son, David, is the right-hand man for Nuggets head coach Michael Malone.
And now David’s father is going to get a first-hand look at these Nuggets. Rick is the recipient of the 2023 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded annually by the National Basketball Coaches Association. The award will be presented to Adelman on Sunday during Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Denver (8 ET, ABC).
“I am really surprised,” Rick Adelman said, adding with a laugh, “I think they ran out of names.”
“The list of candidates is like a who’s who in NBA coaching history,” NBCA president Rick Carlisle said. “A lot of guys were being considered, but it was a strong majority for Rick this year.”
Rick Adelman’s seven-year NBA playing career ended in 1975. His coaching career began in 1977 at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., where he compiled a 141-39 record over six seasons.
Adelman coached 29 years in the NBA, 23 as a head coach with five teams — Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. His career regular-season record of 1,042-749 ranks him 10th on the all-time career list for coaching victories. His first head-coaching job was with the Trail Blazers, whom he took to the NBA Finals in 1990 and ’92. He retired after the 2013-14 season and now lives in Portland with his wife, Mary Kay.
It has been a magical couple of years for Adelman, who turns 77 on June 16. In September 2021, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“I never expected (the Daly Award),” Adelman said. “I didn’t expect the Hall of Fame, either. This one I didn’t even think about. I was shocked when Carlisle called and told me. I’m thrilled about it.
“It just reminds me how lucky I was to have had so many good players and got to work with so many great (assistant) coaches. The longer you get out of the business, the more you appreciate a lot of stuff that went on. I look at the names of the guys who have gotten the award … it’s really special.”
The Daly Award honors the memory of Chuck Daly, who through his Hall-of-Fame coaching career set a standard of integrity, competitive excellence and promotion of NBA basketball. Previous Daly Award winners include Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens, Jack Ramsay, Dick Motta, Larry Brown and Jerry Sloan. Adelman began his NBA coaching career in 1983 as an assistant to Ramsay with Portland. As a player, Adelman was coached by Motta in Chicago. Riley and Sloan are former teammates.
The eight-person selection committee consists of Riley, Wilkens, Bernie Bickerstaff, Billy Cunningham, Joe Dumars, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Donnie Walsh. There is no particular criteria, Carlisle says, for picking a recipient. Some years, two former coaches are honored. This year, it’s only Adelman.
“In a quiet, unassuming way, Rick was a guy (every NBA coach) studied,” Carlisle said. “He was doing things differently. He was ahead of the curve with movement basketball, with spacing basketball and skill basketball. His Sacramento teams were intriguing to watch. His utilization of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac at the elbows, along with (the Kings’) shooting and cutting, is much like the game is played today.”
In 1998, when he arrived in Sacramento, Adelman added former Princeton coach Pete Carril to his coaching staff. (Kings GM Geoff Petrie had played for Carril at Princeton.) Carril helped Adelman install Princeton’s offensive plan that made the Kings one of the top teams in the NBA for several seasons.
“It’s one thing to have a mind like that at your disposal,” Carlisle said. “It’s another to have the humility and self-confidence to implement that stuff, to take things a college coach is suggesting and make them part of the NBA. He gave Pete credit left and right.”
The Daly Award presentation during the Finals between Denver and the Miami Heat is a large piece of serendipity for Adelman. Son David is lead assistant for the Nuggets. Portland native Erik Spoelstra is coaching Miami. Rick’s daughter, Kathy Adelman Naro, played point guard at the University of Portland at the same time Spoelstra played point guard for the Pilots’ men’s team.
Heat players include Oregon native Kevin Love, who played for Rick in Minnesota, and Kyle Lowry, who played for him in Houston.
“That is what’s so neat about this,” Adelman said. “David is going to be there. We have known Erik forever. Kevin Love had a great run with us in Minnesota. And Kyle Lowry … it’s going to be a really neat experience.”
There are even more Portland connections with Denver. Dan Shimensky — son of Mike Shimensky, who was the Blazers’ trainer during Adelman’s coaching stint with the team — is in his ninth season as trainer of the Nuggets. And Connor Griffin, another Oregonian, is the team’s video coordinator/player development coach.
Said David: “It’s a happy coincidence to have all these Portland connections and for dad to be getting the award presented in Denver.”
Rick Adelman has watched every Denver game on TV this season.
“I love the way Denver plays,” he said. “That’s the way we played in Sacramento. We did a lot of the same stuff. They have the one big reason they play that way — (Nikola) Jokic. He is a different kind of force; the most entertaining player I have ever seen play. I love the way he plays, the way he goes about things, and David says he is terrific to coach. He makes it look so easy, but what he does is hard.”
David Adelman is in his 11th NBA season as an NBA assistant coach, his sixth with Malone in Denver. David started with one year as a player development coach under his dad with the Timberwolves before serving four seasons as a full-fledged assistant there under Rick, Sam Mitchell and Flip Saunders. David had one year as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Orlando before joining Malone in Denver in 2017. Now David is coaching in the Finals for the first time.
“It’s terrific,” Rick said. “I brought him to Minnesota, but he has done this all on his own. He has worked his tail off. He has respect around the league. He is the No. 1 assistant on a team going to the Finals. I’m really happy for him. I told him to enjoy his experience. I made the Finals my first and third years (as a head coach) and never got there again. You have to have the talent and the right team, and you have to have some luck, too.
“I’m proud of him.”
David is proud of his father, too.
“It’s really cool that he is getting this award,” David said. “When he called to tell me he was getting a lifetime achievement award, I said, ‘Dad, I think you already got that.’ He is doubling down, which he should. His career has been successful but understated.
“It is special for him because it is coming from his peers. He has respect for the guys who have won it before him. He has never sought accolades, but he feels gratitude to the Coaches Association and all the guys who coached against him through the years.”
David, who went 2-1 as interim head coach when Malone was out with COVID this season, is being talked about as a potential head coach around the league.
Rick will be accompanied on the trip to Denver by his daughter Kathy, an accomplished coach in her own right. A long-time girls coach at Jesuit and Beaverton High, Naro won a state 6A championship with the Beavers in 2022. She will take a leave of absence from coaching so she can watch her three daughters play college ball next season. Mary Kay and Mackenzie are at Boise State and Maddie will be a freshman at Santa Clara. Kathy’s husband, John, will serve as Beaverton’s head coach in 2023-24.
Kathy is the oldest of the six children of Rick and Mary Kay, who have been married for 53 years. Brother R.J., who had worked as an assistant coach, scout and executive in the NBA, died when struck by a car as a pedestrian in 2018. Along with David, the other children are Laura, Caitlin and Pat. The Adelmans adopted Caitlin and Pat when they were young after their mother — Mary Kay’s sister — was killed in a car accident. The kids have provided the Adelmans with a dozen grandchildren.
“I’m really excited for my dad and getting to go with him to Denver,” Kathy said. “Dad was a role model for the way he handled things all those years. It was all about our family and then his players, and being good to both. He did so many things the right way. I’m super proud of him that he is being honored for all the years he put in.
“And with David coaching in the Finals … everything has come together at an amazing moment.”
Petrie and Adelman were roommates and backcourt mates for the original Trail Blazers in 1970-71. They worked together for 13 years as general manager and coach — five with Portland, eight with Sacramento — and remarkably made the playoffs every season. Yet Adelman was never named NBA Coach of the Year.
“I’ve always felt Rick has never had the appreciation for what he accomplished as a coach over a really successful career,” said Petrie, now retired and living in the Sacramento area. “We worked together for two parts of that. It’s a great honor and well-deserved. I’m glad to see the ongoing acknowledgement for his career. He was never a self-promoter. Since coaching, he has retreated into a very private lifestyle.”
John Wetzel coached with Adelman for 14 seasons — six in Portland, two with Golden State and six in Sacramento.
“That’s longer than a lot of marriages,” joked Wetzel, now retired and splitting time between Tucson, Ariz., and Maui.
“I’m happy for Rick,” added Wetzel, who flew with wife Diane to Springfield to be at Adelman’s induction ceremony in 2021. “He was really aware of taking care of the players. He let the players make decisions. He was good with his relationships. He had a great feel for knowing when to put the hammer down and when to let the foot off the gas.”
“Through a season, there are so many times when fatigue sets in. Rick knew when to back up and let them have a day off. The players respected him for that. When we played bad, he would never put it on the players. He absorbed it himself. He knew his personnel and utilized it quite well and put the players in a position to succeed.
“He is as solid a human being as there is — a great family guy. That was the basis for who he was as a coach.”
Twice in the last couple of years, Adelman has been felled by blood infections. He and Mary Kay are currently in assisted living in the Portland area.
“I was really sick about four months ago,” Adleman said. “My kids were worried I wasn’t going to make it. I’m doing better now. We are going to be here for about another month, but I think we’re going to be able to go home then.”
“Dad’s blood pressure was low, and we were worried about him,” Kathy said, “but he has bounced back again. He is walking some on his own, and he is stronger. He is doing a lot better.”
“He doesn’t move around easily, but his mind is sound,” David said. “His voice sounds better. He has a really positive vibe about him right now.”
Being in Denver to watch David coach in the Finals should provide some inspiration.
“I told him, he is still behind me,” Rick joked. “I was in the Finals twice. This is his first time. Now he is going to have to win it.”