Chuck Daly calls himself a "basketball lifer," a coach who thrives on the action and the intensity of the made-in-America game. He has assembled teams from the high school through the professional level, soothing egos, blending talents and winning championships.
But now he is being asked to direct a team that may include this starting five: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone.
Daly, the man who led the Detroit Pistons to consecutive National Basketball Association titles, was named yesterday as the head coach of the first professional United States Olympic basketball team, which will compete in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.
"This is a position of such prestige that you never think it will happen to you," Daly said. "To win a gold medal has nothing to do with time, nothing to do with work, nothing to do with money. It's about dreams."
Daly, 60, was introduced as U.S. head coach during a news conference at the Pistons home arena, the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. The announcement, made by Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton, the head of the USA Basketball games committee, was hardly unexpected.
Daly emerged as a front-runner in recent weeks, as the list of finalists apparently was narrowed to include Larry Brown of the San Antonio Spurs, Lenny Wilkens of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cotton Fitzsimmons of the Phoenix Suns, Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors and Pat Riley, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers. Newton refused to confirm the list and would not detail the 13-member committee's final vote, which occurred Monday in Charlotte, N.C.
Daly's Olympic staff will be filled with one NBA coach and two Division I college coaches.
"Here is a man who has been a proven winner at all levels," Newton said. "I'm traditionalist enough to feel that in this first time around, Chuck represents all of basketball."
Daly's resume includes stops at Duke, Pennsylvania, Boston College, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he achieved his fame and made his reputation by transforming the Detroit Pistons from losers to champions. Since Daly became Pistons head coach, May 17, 1983, Detroit has a 404-221 record and has won the past two NBA titles.
Daly all but guaranteed the U.S. will win the gold medal in the 1992 Summer Games, the first to include open competition in basketball. The U.S. team, which will be assembled this summer by the USA Basketball competition committee, will include a mix professionals and college players.
"I wouldn't anticipate they could lose," Daly said. "Losing will not enter my mind. We're used to putting teams together very quickly, and getting ready."
Daly said he has received no commitments from any NBA stars to play in the Olympics. Among those who have said they want to play are Barkley and Johnson.
"It will be interesting to see ultimately who ends up on the team and who are the assistant coaches," Daly said. "With the pro players, knowing the mentality, they'll want to have some fun with it and treat it professionally. Ultimately, they'll want to win and bring back the gold medal."
Since basketball was introduced as a medal sport at the 1948 London Games, the United States has won the gold in eight of the 10 competitions it has entered. The U.S. team refused to accept the silver medal after a controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Munich Games, skipped the 1980 Moscow Games because of the American-led boycott, and won the bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Games.
For the first time, teams will have to qualify for the 12 spots in the Olympic final. The United States will be the host of the Americas qualifying tournament, tentatively scheduled for June 28-July 5, 1992 at a site to be determined. Four teams from the Americas zone -- composed of countries from North, South and Central America -- will move into the Olympic competition July 26-Aug. 7 in Barcelona.
"There will be pressure to win," Daly said. "But there have been other big basketball games. We've been in some of those. You're well aware of the pressure to win in the NBA. We had 27 coaches last year. CEO jobs. We lost nine of them. I can accept the job and take the hit if we end up as goats."