MINNEAPOLIS — Twenty-four years after he won his first NBA game, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman on Saturday night joined an exclusive club to which only seven other men belong, reaching his 1000th career victory with a tearful 107-101 victory over Detroit at Target Center.
When it ended and the Wolves had persevered after seeing the same chance slip away Friday night against Toronto, Adelman was surrounded by his players while he wrapped his arm around his wife Mary Kay during a special post-game, on-court interview.
“It’s something I never thought about, never aspired to,” he said after a video tribute played on the arena’s big overhead scoreboard, “but I’m glad I got it.”
He joins Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Solan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl as the only NBA coaches to reach 1,000 victories.
“Special people, some of the names up there,” Adelman said afterward. “It’s incredible. I never expected to be with that group. I’ve had some really special situations. We were able to stay at a couple places a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often.”
Timberwolves players Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams weren’t born when Adelman was promoted from assistant coach and replaced fired Portland coach Mike Schuler in February 1989 and five games won his first NBA game, beating the expansion Heat in Miami.
A season later, a Blazers team built around Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth and newly acquired Buck Williams won 59 games and reached the NBA Finals before losing to Detroit.
Two years later, Adelman and the Blazers reached the Finals again, this time losing to Michael Jordan and Chicago.
He coached five-plus seasons in Portland, two in Golden State, eight more in Sacramento and four in Houston before he accepted the Wolves job in September 2011 and brought his sons R.J. and David with him to work for the team in Minnesota.
On Saturday, David wiped tears from his eyes as players congratulated Adelman immediately after the game.
Mary Kay Adelman did, too.
Adelman left the team for 11 games in January to be by her side while doctors tried to find a reason for her sudden seizures.
He twice during that time contemplated retiring and says he will consider whether he will coach next season after this one ends April 17.
“She had to be part of it,” Adelman said. “I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this and you move and you raise six kids and everything else, if it wasn’t for her, I never could have done this. That’s why I’m really glad to do it here. It relieves a little bit of stress.”
Players encircled Adelman and the announced crowd of 15,311 stood in the stands and cheered while he was interviewed on the court after the game.
“He deserve it,” said Rubio, who missed his first 12 shots but then made a big one with 54 seconds left that helped ensure victory. “What he did this season, it’s amazing. He stay with the team. He had some issues, but he gets through those issues and still gets with us. That means a lot. I admire that.
“I want to say thank you for everything he did for us, staying with us in tough moments. Even when, for him, it was even tougher. He shows us how to do it.”
Adelman played seven NBA seasons in the late 1960s and 1970s, picking up in his career as a journeyman point guard strategic philosophies and ideas about the way he liked to be coach from Jack McKeon in San Diego, Rolland Todd in Portland, Phil Johnson in Kansas City and Dick Motta in Chicago.
He worked under Trail Blazers coach Jack Ramsay for three years in his first NBA assistant’s job after he spent six seasons learning his coaching chops at a little community college in Salem, Ore.
In 22 seasons as a head coach, he coached everyone from Drexler, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to Ron Artest.
“You can very easily make the argument that he’s one of the most underrated coaches in the history of this game,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said before the game. “You look at the evolution of his coaching and what he has done, a phenomenal teacher on both sides of the ball. He’s done it with veteran teams, with young teams. He has showed some resiliency doing it at different places.
“He’s one of the great coaches who has coached this game.”
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