Rick Carlisle, pianist, takes on middle school

It's unconfirmed whether Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle agreed to speak and play the piano for middle school students at W.G. Weiner Exploratory Arts Academy in Dallas to share his passion for the piano and music, or to lead a few more renditions of "We are the Champions."

We'll assume the former, but it sure was hard to tell.

The coach of the 2011 world champs held court Wednesday morning as sixth, seventh and eight graders packed the school's auditorium in three separate assemblies. Prior to that, Carlisle sat at a table in a small room with four student journalists that left no stone unturned.

"Were the 1986 Boston Celtics the best team that year?" asked one young journalist, clearly having done his homework, knowing that Carlisle was a reserve on that championship team 25 years ago.

Carlisle smiled and said, "Absolutely. It might have been the team of all-time. In fact, it would be interesting for that team to play the Mavericks."

Then it was on to the auditorium stage and a 9-foot Steinway & Sons Grand piano. Carlisle is a self-taught pianist, learning how to play the year he transferred from Maine to Virginia and had to sit out a year before being eligible to play for the Cavaliers. The man with some of the longest fingers you'll ever see is talented enough to sit in on occasion with close friend Bruce Hornsby and his band, which Carlisle did last month at show at the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.

Anyway, Carlisle opened Wednesday's presentation for the students by quizzing them on the song played before sporting events. Then he played the National Anthem. He then asked for a volunteer to sing --what else? -- Queen's "We are the Champions." Although the song has become an anthem for sports champs, it was recorded in 1977 and the young lady who volunteered to sing on stage -- along with her middle school mates in their seats -- wasn't all that familiar with it. A sharp teacher quickly provided a cell phone with the lyrics to the chorus dailed up and soon the entire auditorium sprang to life with a spine-tingling rendition as Carlisle happily played along.

This is also how Carlisle closed his 30-minute presentation as well. Each assembly got a heavy dose of "We are the Champions" and a select group of students from loudest assembly will be awarded tickets to a Mavs game -- just as soon as the NBA lockout ends, of course.

Carlisle encouraged the students to learn how to play the piano or another instrument, to not be afraid to make mistakes and to enjoy the challenge of becoming good at whatever they choose to do. "Music is not only a creative outlet," he told them, "but it is very relaxing and it is something you can take with you for a lifetime."

As for that other subject matter -- the lockout, Carlisle went silent. "Can't talk about it," he said. The start of the Mavs' training camp on Oct. 4 certainly appears in jeopardy not to mention the regular season that is supposed to start on Nov. 1 at home against the Chicago Bulls.

It will be a busy period when the lockout is lifted. The Mavs have six free agents, including Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea and Dallas hopes to re-sign them all.

Carlisle also opted not to discuss plans to fill the vacancy on his bench left when Dwane Casey accepted the head coaching job with the Toronto Raptors.

About all Carlisle would say regarding basketball is that he and his coaches are keeping regular office hours and are preparing as much as possible to defend their title. They'll also be busy the next few weeks with a series of fantasy camps.

"We're working. We're getting ready. Preparing," Carlisle said. "The one thing about this job and playing in this league is you have to be resourceful. We really haven't changed anything in terms of our approach. We're still studying things we did last year, things we can do better and we're just getting ready."