Dallas Mavericks: Del Harris
The longtime college basketball coach's passing Saturday was thus felt deeply in Dallas, where the Nelson-and-Harris tag team remains firmly entrenched after they reunited with the Mavericks from 2000 through 2007 alongside current Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
Said Harris on Sunday: "Rick will be known by his friends and those players who followed him closely by one short sentence: He cared.
"Regardless of how demanding he was, Rick proved his love for friends and players past and present in a myriad of ways. I have recorded and saved voicemails he has sent me and my son Dominic has saved encouraging letters Rick sent him from years past. Obviously I could go on and on.
"He had tons of friends (in the game). He was totally dedicated to his family, particularly caring for his mother after his father died. He called me the brother he never had and I suspect he used that expression a lot."
Majerus died Saturday at 64 after a lengthy battle with heart disease and a career filled with NCAA successes at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis. He was likewise close to Denver Nuggets coach George Karl and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, meeting Rivers as a kid and calling him "Doc" before anyone after seeing him at a Marquette summer camp in Dr. J T-shirt.
Yes, Eduardo Najera is beloved in Mexico and it didn't take a turnout of about 200 at news conference there earlier this week to announce his retirement after 12 seasons in the NBA to know that.
"Everywhere we go, he's like Elvis," said Del Harris, the longtime Dallas Mavericks assistant and D-League Texas Legends general manager, who joined Najera and Donnie Nelson in Mexico City for the announcement. "He goes by one name there. He's like Pele in Brazil."
On Friday at the American Airlines Center, Harris and Nelson, the Mavs president of basketball operations and Legends co-owner, along with Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle, all praised Najera as a hard-nosed player and endorsed him as the next head coach of the Legends. Najera will also have an ownership stake in the franchise and he will join Nelson in the Mavs' front office.
Those who have known Najera and coached him said as long as he brings the same passion to coaching as he did playing that he will be a success. That will be seen as he begins his post-playing career by jumping straight into the head chair. What is instantly known is that the Najera-led Legends are now Mexico's team, too.
"I think that the country is going to be following me now. They’re going to be following the Legends," Najera said. "At the press conference (in Mexico City), obviously they knew who the Mavericks were, but once they heard about the Legends, now it became a Latino thing, a Mexican thing. Now we are going to have their support, I know, because that’s who we are. We are very loyal to athletes and I think that we are going to have that support and hopefully I won’t let them down."
Najera also shared, a bit reluctantly at first, his grand vision to one day deliver Mexico an NBA team. If anyone can do it, it is Najera, who became the first Mexican-born player drafted in the NBA in 2000 and is now the first Mexican-born coach in the NBA or D-League.
"It means a lot. I’m so proud of my heritage, proud of being a Mexican, born in Mexico, obviously I lived there til I was 17," said Najera, who came to the U.S. to attend Oklahoma. "It means a lot. This is a lot of responsibility, I know, I understand, but I think that if I focus on just coaching, if I work really hard, I think that I’m going to represent my country the right way. They’re expecting my work ethic, all the the same things that I had as a player, they expect it to come in as a coach, and I’m going to do that."
Nelson hired Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman to coach the Legends a couple of years ago, making her the first woman to coach an NBA-level D-League team. After Lieberman stepped down to join the club's front office, Nelson attempted to make a splash by offering fired Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl a compensatory package unheard of in minor league sports, although Pearl eventually turned it down to remain closer to his children in Tennessee.
The hiring of Najera accomplishes a massive marketing initiative, but also gives a former and loyal Mavs player with lofty aspirations the opportunity to immediately get started on his post-playing days.
They'll be available to play in Sunday's game when the Legends return home to face the Maine Red Claws.
Williams, a 6-10 forward/center has not been active in the Mavs' last two games after getting off to somewhat of a flashy start. The former Mansfield High School star, who was out of the NBA a year ago, has played in three games and is averaging 4.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in 5.7 minutes.
The Mavs plan to allow Yi to work his way into playing shape with the D-League team. Yi played for Legends coach, and former Mavs assistant, Del Harris, who coached China to an eighth-place finish at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Sources with knowledge of the moves told ESPNDallas.com that the D-League franchise will this week hire former Mavericks forward Sam Perkins as a big-man coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Marques Haynes of the Harlem Globetrotters as a front-office adviser.
Sources said that the Legends, who are co-owned by Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will also hire former Maverick and Dallas native Jason Sasser to work in player development alongside Perkins and Travis Blakeley, who served as the Legends’ director of player personnel in their inaugural season.
The Legends will be coached this season by Del Harris, who, at 74, replaces Nancy Lieberman on the bench to allow Lieberman to move to the front office as assistant general manager under president of basketball operations Spud Webb. Harris’ assistant coaches will be former NBA veteran guard David Wesley and Scott Flemming, who like Wesley served as an assistant to Lieberman last season.
The Legends start filling out their roster in earnest later this week with Thursday’s D-League draft and are scheduled to open the season at home Nov. 26 against Austin at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco.
Power forward Matt Rogers and guard Justin Dentmon, who played for the Legends under Lieberman last season, were recently signed as the club’s first two confirmed players for this season.
And throughout those five decades, Harris has relished the countless comparisons over the years to lookalike actor Leslie Nielsen, who died Sunday at the age of 84 of complications from pneumonia.
When he was hired to coach the Lakers in 1994, Harris joked that he might be able to earn some side money in Hollywood as a body double for Nielsen.
Reached Sunday night by ESPNDallas.com, Harris retold one of his favorite stories about his friend, rewinding to the night he was coaching the Milwaukee Bucks against Chicago with the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" star in attendance.
"He and I were honorary co-chairmen for the Vince Lombardi Foundation for a couple of years and did public service announcements for the two main fundraisers that were both in Milwaukee," Harris said. "During the basketball season he was in town to cut a promo and came to our game at home with the Bulls and Michael Jordan.
"We won the game and security brought him down to the exit tunnel as the players and coaches were exiting the court. We had already had the lookalike thing going and I had actually signed a name to an autograph a time or two, so I said to him, 'How about going in the locker room and act like you are me and tell them they played a good game or you are proud of them or whatever you have.' He did it and the guys loved it.
"He brought a lot of laughter to the world, but not tonight," Harris said. "Peace, Leslie."
Del Harris, a longtime assistant coach under Don Nelson and Avery Johnson, will provide color analysis on 21 Spanish-language home broadcasts alongside play-by-play man Jerry Romo on Time Warner cable channel 168. Those games start tonight with the Mavs taking on the Boston Celtics.
"Maybe," Harris said with a smile. "I can only guarantee one."
The Mavs recommended Harris for the gig, and he agreed to do it. Harris learned Spanish 35 years ago when he coached the Puerto Rican national team. He also coached there for seven summers and spent a year coaching in Barcelona.
D-League sources told ESPN.com that the Frisco-based Texas Legends – who already employ Nancy Lieberman as the first-ever female head coach of a team under the NBA’s umbrella -- will announce Tuesday that Chinese sports entrepreneur Sonny Xiao is joining the franchise as a co-owner.
Sources said that Xiao – who will team with Mavs president Donnie Nelson and local businessman Evan Wyly in the Legends’ ownership group – has been approved by the NBA and will thus become the first Chinese-born owner of an NBA-affiliated team.
Xiao, who completed a portion of his education at SMU and is a co-founder of RXtreme Sports Consulting in China, can still claim that distinction because a signed agreement in 2009 that would have transferred a 15-percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers to a group of Chinese investors fell through and was never executed.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov recently became the first foreign-born majority owner of an NBA team when he assumed operational control of the New Jersey Nets in the spring.
The Mavericks, thanks largely to Nelson, have had strong ties to China for more than a decade, dating to the selection of Wang Zhizhi with the 36th overall pick in the 1999 draft.
Wang played in parts of two seasons with the Mavericks, after which then-Mavericks assistant coach and current Legends GM Del Harris coached China’s national team to eighth place at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, matching the country’s best-ever finish. Nelson then served as an assistant coach on China’s national team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
In a June 2009 interview, NBA commissioner David Stern described the Cavaliers’ intentions to sell a minority stake to a Chinese group as a "logical second step" to the league’s growing list of projects in China, which include commitments to build several new arenas and develop a pro league there.
The Houston Rockets and the New York Yankees are prominent American sports franchises known to already have sponsorship deals with business entities from China.
Harris can resume duties as the Frisco D-League team's general manager if he chooses.
"I told him the GM chair will be open," said Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the co-owner of the Frisco franchise, which begins play in the fall. "It's there for him. We're fully hoping and expecting he will come back."
But that won’t necessarily create an opening with the yet-to-be named D-League squad co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
Nelson told ESPNDallas.com on Tuesday that he will hold off on searching for a new general manager – Harris’ new (and now old) gig as of Nov. 5 – until the summertime, just in case Harris decides he wants to return.
Nelson has the time to wait because the Frisco franchise doesn’t begin D-League play until the 2010-11 season. Harris will undoubtedly be hoping to still be working in New Jersey next season, but the whole Nets franchise is in flux with Vandeweghe, president Rod Thorn and the rest of the basketball staff all working on the final year of their contracts before the expected transfer in ownership control from Bruce Ratner to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
“Del’s chair will remain open until it absolutely has to be filled,” Nelson said. “We would love to have him back any time.”
Even if Harris ends up staying with the Nets beyond this season, Nelson said the 72-year-old will continue to be a sounding board for Nancy Lieberman, who was hired earlier this month as the first female head coach in D-League history. Nelson and president of basketball operations Spud Webb will split front-office duties until it becomes clear after the NBA season whether they’ll definitely need a replacement for Harris.
“If I have any questions, he’s only a phone call away,” Lieberman said of Harris. “And I will be calling.”
As for naming the team, Nelson said that the franchise continues to take suggestions (more info can be found by clicking here) and faces no strict timetable for choosing a name. He did add, though, that the D-League entry will almost certainly be identified as a Texas team as opposed to a Frisco team like the Rangers’ Double A affiliate Frisco RoughRiders.
“It’s 80 percent that we’ll go with Texas,” Nelson said.
Del Harris, who was announced as the general manager of the Frisco team on Nov. 5, accepted an assistant coaching position with the New Jersey Nets on Monday.
“Wow, our first NBA call-up and we don’t even have a name yet.” owner Donnie Nelson said Monday. “It’s only fitting that it’s Del Harris. He’s been a trailblazer and innovator throughout his decorated career."
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