Collins is plugged into this year’s Hall class
Doug Collins has a unique perspective on tomorrow’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductions, having crossed paths with all of the honorees.
Collins coached Michael Jordan in the 1980s and in Jordan’s final two NBA seasons. Collins grew up in Benton, Ill., 25 miles from the hometown of Jerry Sloan, who guided John Stockton’s career in Utah. Early in Collins’s broadcasting career, he followed the Navy team that featured David Robinson. And while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, Collins worked camps at Cheyney State, along with C. Vivian Stringer.
“When you are in the business for 40 years, your paths intersect with a lot of people,’’ said Collins, who will join Peter Vecsey in receiving the Curt Gowdy Media Award today. “It’s like a gigantic fraternity.’’
Collins was 35 when he was hired to coach the Bulls in 1986. He guided them to a 50-32 record in 1987-88 and to the Eastern Conference finals in 1989. The championships were achieved after Collins left, and his relationship with Jordan came full circle when they teamed up in Washington from 2001-03.
“It was frustrating for Michael early in his career,’’ Collins said. “The Bulls were a team where he didn’t have a lot of help. Isiah Thomas had a tremendous supporting cast in Detroit, Magic Johnson had the same in LA, and Larry Bird with Boston. Michael had to do so much as a young player to help the Bulls be competitive.
“Normally, the best players go to the worst teams, so they don’t have a chance to immediately walk in and play on a good team. They are probably going to have to go through some heartache on the way. And, being eliminated by Boston, swept by Detroit, in those years, all that time climbing that mountain, is a big part of who he is.’’
Collins credits the arrival of Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, then the acquisition of Bill Cartwright, with taking the Bulls to the championship level.
“It was Michael’s seventh year before he got the right pieces around him,’’ Collins said. “I looked at it, and he had something like 120 different teammates until he was on a championship-caliber team.
“All of a sudden we got a little lucky in the 1987 draft. It was contingent on Seattle being able to get who they liked [with the No. 5 pick], so we got Pippen and Grant. Then, [general manager] Jerry Krause made the deal for Cartwright.
“[Krause] did a lot behind the scenes, getting the right pieces, guys who could shoot, like John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong, talented, skilled athletes. He was the architect of a team that won six championships, he and [owner] Jerry Reinsdorf get a lot of credit for that.’’
Collins credits Jordan with creating the NBA’s economic boom.
“Michael revolutionized so many things,’’ Collins said. “The long, baggy shorts, the Air Jordans, the
“He set the standard in so many ways. Forget about playing - he reached out to America. Everybody watched Michael, and he brought up the television ratings and changed the salary structure.
“When he won his third title in 1993 and [retired], the cap was $8.5 million and Michael was making $2.5 million. When they beat Utah [in 1999], the payroll was $85 million and Michael was making $35 million. He took all the players making $1 million-$2 million into the $7 million-$8 million range. He lifted all the players’ salaries.’’
The difference between the Michael Jordan in his 20s and the 40-year-old Michael Jordan?
“Nothing changed, he just wasn’t as young,’’ Collins said. “He had a bad knee, but his competitive drive and spirit just carried him.
“It was amazing what he could do at that age. He averaged [22.9 points] my first year [in Washington] and he wasn’t anywhere near what he had been physically. And in his last year, he was the only player on the team to play 82 games.
“He was the most amazing competitor I’ve been around. His competitive will and ability to put everything out of his mind and get the space he needed as a player - that was his world and he knew how to win and dominate. That’s the belief he had in himself. And if you were a teammate or his coach, you had to prepare and do whatever it takes to win.’’
But Collins grew up with a less glamorous NBA, with role models such as Sloan.
“John Stockton was his point guard for 19 years, and they are both very unassuming guys,’’ Collins said. “It is going to be interesting to see how they get up and speak and reach out at the ceremonies.’’
Collins had an early preview of Robinson while commenting on a Syracuse-Navy game.
“I was doing Navy games with Gary Bender when nobody had seen that much of David,’’ Collins said. “We were at the Carrier Dome and David had 50 going against Rony Seikaly and I knew then that he was going to be something special.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.