HARTFORD, Conn. -- You're Chuck Daly. You're 60 years old and have never been more rich, famous or successful. The question you had to ask yourself last summer was, "Do I need this anymore?"
NBC was ready to drop 400 big ones on you just to be its color man. No stress. No sweat. Just watch a lot of games on the side and open your mouth alongside Costas or Albert every now and then and stick the checks in the bank. The one-point games, the fan and media pressure, the referees . . . all this would be someone else's problem. You could watch the game, walk out of the arena and head for the bar. For 400 K. Nice work if you can get it, and you could.
And if you stayed, what did you have to prove? That you could win three in a row, as opposed to two? In the minds of many, you've done that already. You wuz robbed in 1988, Game 6. Zebra calls a chintzy touch foul on Laimbeer, puts Kareem on the line for two. He makes 'em both, and you lose by one. You lose the final game. Instead of winning in six, you lose in seven.
A lot of people would have folded the hand after last year. Granted, you figured to make more than $400,000 by coaching again, and there's always that outside income -- are we to assume everybody in Detroit would have dropped you from their ads because you were no longer coaching the team? -- but you still would have been making a lot of money, and you would have gone out on top. There's a lot to be said for that.
You're not stupid. You realize that by coming back you might eventually wind up unhappy, your reputation stained. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? world. You've got to win 60 and at least get back to the Finals to keep everybody happy.
You are as aware of this harsh reality as anyone alive, but you came back, anyway. In the end, it was an easy call. The problem is, people just don't quite understand what makes you tick.
"It isn't a matter of accomplishment," you explain. "It's a way of life. It's a way of life. In the summer, I see planes flying overhead, and I'm not on them, I wonder why. You know; you get on planes, you go to hotels. I like being with the coaches, writers, TV people, I like all that. It isn't something you just step back from.
"At one point in your life, you say, 'Gee, I don't know if I'm going to like this or not.' But you get used to it. And then you say, 'What else am I going to do? Sit home?' And then I think, 'Three games till Jan. 24' and I say, 'My God! Sitting home.' I don't know what I'd do. I was out of work one time, and I remember what it was like. No phone calls. No office to go to. No kibitzing. It's a
whole different lifestyle."
You're prefacing everything these days with, "It's in the book." The book is "Daly Life," subtitled, "Every step a struggle: Memoirs of a World-Champion Coach." The details of last June are in the book. What NBC offered. What you were thinking. How you kept changing your mind "almost hourly."
But the key to everything has nothing to do with the ins and outs of the negotiations with NBC. You lay it out for us in the book.
You're an impressionable kid from a small, non-descript town in western Pennsylvania. As far as Kane, Pa., goes, you're pretty much the resident celebrity. Nothing much ever happened there. Nice God-fearing people led awesomely dull lives. You always wanted more.
It's right there on Page 28. "A certain wanderlust has always been a part of my makeup," you write. "I always feel there is something special or exciting over the next hill or around the next corner."
You like action. You must be involved. You knew early on Kane couldn't hold you. You had a high school coach you admired, a gentlemanly chap named C. Stuart Edwards. You decided you'd like to be a C. Stuart Edwards, only you knew it had to be in a larger arena. In the 10th grade, you said to your mother, "I'm going to be a college basketball coach and make $10,000 a year."
It took you a while, but you did it. Money matters to you, because it took you so long to grab hold of some, but money is a means to an end. You'll spend it. On clothes. On food. On travel. When work is over, you have no objection to serious play.
What it came down to is that you like being Chuck Daly, and part of being Chuck Daly is being involved each and every day of the basketball season. Besides which, you know you're damn good at what you do, and there is no other area of human endeavor you could approach with such confidence.
So you're back, and right away Dennis Rodman is hurt and Vinnie Johnson is unsigned. Not good. "It's starting out the way things can happen to a very good team," you sigh. "It can all disintegrate with the things you have to be lucky with. One is injury. The second is the contract situation. These things can get resolved, but there's no guarantee."
You're Chuck Daly. You'll always be the Prince of Pessimism. But that's never been the issue. The important thing is, you're not bored. Nothing else matters.