High school, college and NBA coaching great, Don Casey.
To say that Don Casey is an important figure to the game of basketball, is to massively undersell his contributions. His head-coaching journey began in 1958, when he was just 21 years old. Almost by accident, Don found basketball; perhaps, basketball found Don. He enjoyed great success, leading Bishop Eustace High School to two state championships (Class B and A in successive seasons) in six years.
We discuss Don’s transition to the college ranks, where he spent nine seasons as the head coach of Temple University. We also chat about his long-time mentor, the legendary Harry Litwack.
The NBA came calling for the 1983 season. Don remained at the highest level (as an assistant and/or head coach) for almost 20 years. We talk about his memories and experiences from that stage of his life. He went from the sleepless nights and frustrations of leading the L.A. Clippers (through 1990), to joining Chris Ford‘s coaching staff on the Boston Celtics (1991). We reflect on Don’s memories of Boston, including his links to the great Jack McCallum, who at one time, lived with Don whilst researching Unfinished Business. Don would move to New Jersey after the 1996 season, to work for John Calipari, before finishing his NBA (coaching) career as head coach of the New Jersey Nets.
The conversation concludes with a brief discussion about Don’s post-NBA interests.
Topics / links discussed (include):
Boston Celtics versus Indiana Pacers (1991 NBA Playoffs)
New Jersey Nets versus Chicago Bulls (1998 NBA Playoffs)
High School: William E. Grady Career and Technical, New York
As a young boy, Rolando moved from Panama to New York. We discuss his successful transition to a new country and how he managed to learn – then master – a second language, all from just the age of eight.
To this point, Rolando’s sporting love was football (soccer). After two years of struggling to find others who shared his love of the game, he began to take an interest in basketball, courtesy of his soon-to-be mentor, Ted Gustus. What followed was a transformation from “a kid who couldn’t play…a kid who was throwing the ball away”, to being named one of the city’s top high-school players. Perseverance, passion and focus was paramount. Three times (seventh, eighth and ninth grade) Blackman was cut from his high-school team, before making his breakthrough and fast becoming one of the state’s finest players.
College: Kansas State University
Years: 1977-78 – 1980-81 | Coach: Jack Hartman
We chat about Rolando’s decision to attend Kansas State University. He had upwards of 200 offers from schools across the country. For three of his four college seasons, Rolando was teammates with friend of the show, Ed Nealy. As a junior, the Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament, before bowing out (second round) with a two-point loss to eventual champions, the Louisville Cardinals. Individually, Blackman had a fantastic season, being named Big 8 (now Big 12) Player of the Year and 3rd-Team All-American.
Following his junior season, Rolando was invited to the Olympic trials (May, 1980) in Kentucky. Upwards of 50 nations – USA included – boycotted the (July) Games, protesting the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan. Whilst researching for my conversation with Rolando, I discovered that (his) Team USA participated in exhibition games – dubbed the ‘Gold Medal Series‘ – against teams of NBA stars, culminating in a match-up against the 1976, gold medal-winning U.S. Olympians. Rolando reflects on the trials, the exhibitions that followed and the moment he realized he was one of the nation’s elite players.
As a senior at Kansas State, Rolando’s buzzer-beating, second-round heroics, helped advance his Wildcats, deep into the NCAA Tournament – ultimately making a trip to the 1981 Elite Eight. It’s widely agreed that his game-winner versus Oregon State – along with U.S. Reed and John Smith’s same-day buzzer beaters – solidified the term, ‘March Madness‘.
Coaches: Dick Motta, John MacLeod & Richie Adubato
Rolando joined the expansion Dallas Mavericks, after just their first season in the NBA. They went 15-67 before he entered the scene. The team improved markedly in his first-two seasons with the Mavericks. He talks about the transition from being a college standout, to steering a fledgling team in the NBA.
I refer to my conversation with another friend of the show, Dale Ellis, when I ask Rolando to recall the franchise’s first (series) victory in the 1984 NBA Playoffs. It culminated in a crazy finish to the fifth-and-deciding first-round game versus the Seattle SuperSonics. The game was played at Moody Coliseum, due to Reunion Arena’s already-existing booking to host a WCT (tennis) tournament. Dallas won the game in overtime, not before both teams were ushered back from the dressing rooms, to play out the final second on the clock – which didn’t start, the first-time around. The game is known as ‘Moody Madness‘.
Rolando Blackman’s passion for life, is perhaps best demonstrated in the 1987 NBA All-Star Game. In the final three seconds of the fourth quarter, down two points, he drove strong to the hoop, as a contingent of Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan tried to stop him. A foul was called, just before the time expired. Blackman stood alone, needing to make both free-throws, to force an overtime session. Rolando details his mindset on the final moments of regulation, the ensuing shots from the charity stripe and how he dealt with the countless distractions – most notably, Magic Johnson‘s attempts to limit Isiah’s incessant trash-talking. As you may expect, we also deep-dive into Rolando’s famous exclaim – “Confidence, Baby, confidence!” – one of the NBA’s most-memorable moments ever.
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of that game. Rolando also discusses his opinion of Tom Chambers‘ All-Star Game MVP honors. Speaking of All-Star Games, we chat about the 1986 contest, played at Dallas’ Reunion Arena. Rolando talks about being the Mavericks’ sole on-court representative.
It wouldn’t be a conversation about the 1980s Dallas Mavericks, if we didn’t cover the team’s battles against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks extended the World Champion Lakers, to seven games in the 1988 Western Conference Finals.
From 1988 through 1992, the Mavericks were coached by John MacLeod and then, Richie Adubato. The franchise began a decline that would bottom out, the year after Blackman left the team. Rolando candidly discusses the series of events which led to the franchise’s lowest era to date.
Seasons: 1992-93 – 1993-94 | Team: New York Knicks
In June of 1992, the Mavericks traded Rolando to New York. Instead of playing for Dallas’ 11-71 (1993) squad, he was a member of the mighty New York Knicks – a franchise set to seriously challenge the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a third-straight NBA title. We chat about Rolando’s move to New York and his thoughts on the trade.
The 1994 season is one of my all-time favorites. The league was in transition, with the then-retired Michael Jordan, playing baseball. The Houston Rockets and (Blackman’s) New York Knicks were poised to make the leap to the NBA’s elite. After disposing of the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, en route to the NBA Finals, the Knicks went to seventh-and-deciding-games, in the next-three series – versus, Chicago, Indiana & Houston. Rolando shares his thoughts on the end of his NBA career, plus, talks about his decision to finish his playing days with international stints in Greece and Italy.
After retiring as player, Rolando would return to Dallas. In the early 2000s, he was a Player Development Coach for the Mavericks. These were crucial years in the development of future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. Rolando talks about how closely he worked – and scrimmaged – with a young Dirk.
Within the decade, Rolando also coached internationally. In the 2006 season, he was an assistant coach to Avery Johnson, as the Mavericks made it to the NBA Finals. We discuss his future ambitions within the sport of basketball.
In 2000, the Mavericks retired his famous #22 jersey. Then, in 2007, Kansas State retired his #25 jersey. In 2015, Blackman was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
I ask Rolando – though it’s almost a certainty we’d know what he’d pick – to recall “The Game I’ll Never Forget”. Our conversation concludes with a quick chat about the significance of his jersey numbers.