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Jimcs50
08-25-2004, 09:45 AM
Aug. 25, 2004, 12:18AM

Would Del Harris trade his experience in this year's Olympics? Not for all the tea in China
Basketball's the ticket for globe-trotting coach
By JONATHAN FEIGEN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

ATHENS, Greece Incredible as it seems watching him now, Del Harris at first did not want to be here, putting so much of himself into another coaching gig.

All the hopes and frustrations, the disappointments and comedy, come pouring out of him the way they always have and always will. The losses still hurt. The wins still salve the pain. And the stories flow because they are a part of him, too, the way they were when he coached the Rockets almost two decades before they included a 7 1/2 -foot Chinese center.

Harris always has believed in basketball, from coaching jobs in Puerto Rico to Canada, Houston to Beijing. He still cherishes the way the game can bring strangers together, the way it can bring him to his knees as it did when China was whipped by Argentina last week or lift him as it did when China shocked Serbia-Montenegro on Monday to move to the Olympic medal round.

"I've coached for 45 years," Harris said. "During that time, I've had over 50 teams, because I also coached seven summers in Puerto Rico plus have been in world competition many times. I have never coached a group of players that I have more respect for for the way they work and the way they are as human beings than this group of young men."

The real appeal
That, more than the wins, remains the appeal the relationships, the friendships, the partnerships. So Harris finds himself charmed by another team and armed with another collection of stories.

Now appearing in a limited engagement: Del at the Improvolopoulos.

"I could tell story after story about how kind these players are," Harris said. "They take care of me like I'm the king of China. I can't carry a bag or go through a door after anyone. We fly on small airplanes, and the seven-footers want me to take their seat.":shock
With that, he was ready to roll.

"Just the kind of guy Yao Ming is," Harris started. "He's my suitemate he and Liu Wei. We're in little boxes, about 10 by 12, 12 by 12. They share a room. I have a room myself, and we have three more people living in our suite.

"There's six of us, and there's two bathrooms. One of them has a shower that is about three feet by three feet. And it has a curtain on one side and none on the other. Therefore, the water goes out on the floor and then out in the hallway. They won't hear about using my bathroom. 'Coach, that's your bathroom.' They have to wade in there to pee."

By now, Harris owns the room, so he offers one more punch line.

"They have no hot water," Harris said. "In Chinese, (their reaction) sounds the same when you take a cold shower."

Then there was the little incident days later when Liu shouted at Harris during a game. China beat New Zealand that morning, but nerves were still raw after Yao's controversial, angry reaction to his team's 25-point loss to Spain in its Olympic opener.

So when Harris was asked about Liu's outburst, he launched into another classic-Del story.

"Whoever has played in high-level competition knows that nothing has really happened," Harris said. "He doesn't even have to apologize. I love him. He's a great kid.

"You know, one of my top three players I've ever coached, Moses Malone, once said to me something really bad during a game, and I said, 'Look, Moses, we'll talk about sex after the game. Now I want you to rebound.' "


Beijing a possibility
The room roared at the retelling in each language. And in some ways, that was the point. Styles differ, but the game and its people, at their heart, are the same. Basketball has taken Harris from summers in Puerto Rico, where he met Tom Nissalke to gain entry to the NBA, to head coaching jobs with the Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers to his current place as a Dallas Mavericks assistant.

It could bring Harris back to the Chinese national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Chinese officials said they would evaluate such decisions after this summer's Games but have emphasized their pleasure with Harris.

"Mr. Harris has meant a great deal for us," Liu said. "I hope this is not the end of the road, but a new beginning."

Harris' response? "I'm not one for forecasting the future."

He recounted how he slowly warmed to taking this job in the first place.

"My initial reaction was I didn't want to spend all summer doing something like this," Harris said. "After all the years in the NBA, you really look forward to a little free time in the summer. About a month went by, and the subject was brought up again. I didn't say no initially. I just said, 'Let me think about it.' I just thought it went away. Then they asked me again. About a week went by, and I thought, 'Maybe this is something I was meant to do. Maybe this is the right thing to do.' I told (Mavs president of basketball operations) Donnie Nelson, 'If they still want me to do it, I'm up for it.' "

Clearly, there is a need for Harris to upgrade China's system as a whole. During a training camp north of Dallas, he brought in a trainer to teach the team doctor how to tape ankles. Ice has been used about as often as in European soda.


Accepting all roles
Even in Athens, Harris has served as coach, assistant coach, scout, and tape editor. But having taken the assignment, Harris has accepted all that comes with it. When China was thoroughly outplayed by Argentina, its guards unable to run an offense against the Argentines' full-court quickness, Harris was as crushed as Yao had been frustrated. When China defeated Serbia-Montenegro, Harris called the win the most rewarding of his career.

"I have coached in the NBA Finals (with the Rockets in 1986)," he said. "My team in Puerto Rico won a gold medal in the Central American Games. My team in Puerto Rico got second in the world club championships, third in the world club championships. Our team in the U.S. got third here in Greece (in the 1998 world championships) without NBA players. The Canada team I was with got fifth in the Toronto world games. My team in Puerto Rico got three national championships in a row.

"And this is the best win I've ever had."

Jimcs50
08-25-2004, 09:47 AM
Could you see Alan Iverson or Kobe carrying their coach's bags or opening doors for him? :rolleyes

I think I want China to win this thing now, if Team USA fails to.