Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons Team President, just hired a new coach. Michael Curry. Some basketball pundits say the move was unconventional. He only has one year of coaching experience, they say (last year as an assistant coach with the Pistons). Not just one year of experience coaching professionally, but one year of total coaching experience, at any level.
And I suppose if I stopped here, it would make sense to call this an unconventional hire. But there’s a lot more to Curry than that. For those of you that don’t know much about him, here’s a few bullet points from his resume:
- Played college ball at Georgia Southern (Never heard of this school? You’re not alone.)
- Undrafted by any NBA team (this means no team wanted him when his college career was over)
- Following his collegiate career, he played in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, as well as in the United States Basketball League (1992), Global Basketball League and in the Continental Basketball Association (1992-93 and 1995-96). (The international locales may sound sexy, but he wasn’t vacationing, he was working with the hopes of getting noticed by an NBA team.)
In 1996 he finally earned a shot at playing in the NBA as the Detroit Pistons signed him to a 10-day contract, the equivalent to a mid-season on-the-court tryout: you play good, maybe you get another 10 days, you don’t impress, better luck next time…if there is one.
Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Press quotes John Hammond, then-assistant coach with the Pistons, as he recalls Michael Curry’s first day with the team:
Hammond sat down with him as the teams were warming up and said he was happy to have him aboard.
‘I can remember him stopping me in mid-sentence,’ Hammond said. ‘He said, ‘Hey, Coach. Let me tell you one thing: Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine. I know what it takes to be an entry-level person. You have to be the first one in the office. You have to be the last one to leave. You have to speak to everyone and call everyone by name.’ ‘
Curry pointed at the players shooting on the floor.
‘Those guys don’t know how to be an entry-level guy,’ he said. ‘I do, and I’ll survive in this business.’
Curry was on a 10-day contract at the time.
Five years later, his fellow players elected him president of the NBA Players Association.
Yeah, and not only did he manage to play for 11 seasons in the NBA (6 of them spent with the Pistons), he did it while only averaging 4.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and half a steal (that’s .5) per game.
Needless to say, no kid has a Fathead of Michael Curry hanging on their bedroom wall. No, but now he’ll be coaching those Fatheaded players that kids have on their wall.
I’m writing about this because it shows that culture still matters, and Joe Dumars gets that.
He said the following at the press conference where Michael Curry was introduced as the new coach:
“What I am looking for in this position is approach and characteristics to lead. I understand experience. But experience for the sake of experience doesn’t mean much. You could have a guy with a 35 or 40 percent winning percentage who’s done it for 15 years — is that what you are looking for?’
No, that’s not what I’m looking for Mr. Dumars. I trust you know what to look for.
“Michael has been a proven leader throughout his NBA career as a player, administrator and assistant coach, said Dumars. Given his strong knowledge of the game and tireless work ethic, we feel he is the right person to lead our team. Michael understands the culture of our franchise and its expectations.”
Man, I love it when he says stuff like that.
And hey, I’m not writing this to say that Michael Curry will be a great NBA coach for the Pistons and lead them to a championship. Although my gut instinct is that he will do just that. Eventually. But right now I just love that Joe Dumars wasn’t afraid to make such a seemingly unconventional move. I love that he used the same principles when hiring this coach as he did when he assembled the team of players who won the NBA Championship in 2004: he chose heart over talent and he valued hunger over past accomplishment. Joe Dumars understands that culture matters. And if Michael Curry does lead this team to another championship, perhaps this move won’t seem so unconventional.