Last year before the 2014 NBA Finals, I participated in a conference call with NBA analysts Reggie Miller and Greg Anthony, intrigued to know of their opinion on Euroleague-winning coach David Blatt, and I was surprised with what they responded with.
“I don’t know his resume,” Miller said. “But the way they are getting rid of these coaches left and right; more power for him. Come on down.”
Anthony then added: “I’m not that familiar with him, I don’t even know who he is but ultimately, the game of basketball is global. It’s the same all over.”
A year has passed that conference call, and that same coach that Miller and Anthony had not heard too much about has gone from Euroleague glory to leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in what has been a rollercoaster 13-month odyssey.
Some will say that Blatt has had three superstars to do all the work for him and that LeBron James constantly overruled his timeout plays in order to push the Cavs in the King’s direction, but it takes a great coach to keep three players that possess such skill as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and James in order so that they can maintain their passion and hunger to succeed.
Superstars need guidance as well, and it could have been very easy for this team to self-destruct, especially seeing as the Cavs entered 2015 with a subpar 18-14 record, riding a three-game losing streak, which was highlighted by a humiliating 103-80 loss to the Detroit Pistons. The team looked to be heading nowhere. At the time, ESPN reported that Blatt had lost the locker room and that his job was on the line.
But Blatt stayed focused on his task, as he guided the Cavs back to winning ways and those locker room tales very quickly faded away. In 2015 alone, under Blatt’s tutorage, Cleveland went 47-16, tearing into opposing defences with free flowing, unselfish, team-orientated basketball.
And now, Blatt is leading his Cleveland side to the Finals, where he faces off against the Golden State Warriors and another NBA coaching rookie in Steve Kerr.
REWIND TO HOW BLATT’S CLEVELAND JOURNEY BEGAN
Blatt’s journey to the NBA Finals though began on June 12, 2014, as he sat down for his final press conference in Tel Aviv with the Israeli Cup, league and Euroleague trophy in tow, blissfully unaware of what was going to happen next except the promise of a job in the NBA.
Most were reporting that Blatt would take the assistant coaching role at the Golden State, but very few envisioned him leading the charge as a head coach.
But before Blatt announced that he would be stepping down as Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv coach, he sat proudly in the Mediolanum Forum in Milan, a beaming smile on his face as he faced the media just moments after winning the Euroleague title in an overtime thriller against Real Madrid.
Blatt began by asking the journalists that had packed into a relatively cramped press conference room inside the Forum if they had read the late Apple co-founder Steven Jobs’ book and if we knew what the inventor’s’ final words were?
“Come on, none of you know this,” Blatt said, seemingly in amazement that no one, including myself had read Jobs’ autobiography.
“One of the greatest quotes I ever read in my life was in the last moments of Steven Jobs’ life,” Blatt explained. “He was a great man. The last word he said was… ‘Wow’.
“Think about how wonderful that is, how positive that is, how optimistic that is. A man with his dying breath says ‘wow’. That means he saw something going forward that gave us all some hope.”
Blatt certainly took Jobs’ last word into account and with his various successes, not just with Maccabi, but also in years gone by with the Russian national team, gave himself some hope.
And on June 20, just over a month after his Euroleague victory and just over a week after announcing his departure from Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, Blatt was revealed as the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He then saw his dreams turn into reality when LeBron publically stated that he was coming home.
It’s been a whirlwind 13 months, not just for Blatt but also for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, and eventually when Blatt pens his memoirs, he might be able to write down that he won the Euroleague championship and NBA crown in back-to-back seasons. Sure it isn’t a reality just yet, there’s still the task of ousting the Warriors, but if it does come to fruition, then he has a perfect phrase to sum this season all up when he reflects on his life…