Ten Questions With...Richie Adubato

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Richie Adubato joined the Dallas Mavericks, from the staff of the New York Knicks, in 1986 as an assistant coach under Dick Motta. He stayed with the team after Motta left and was an assistant on John MacLeod's staff. On November 29, 1989, he replaced MacLeod as the Mavs' head coach. He remained with the club as head coach until January 13, 1993.

He went on to further success in the WNBA, coaching the New York Liberty to the women's title. Today he is with the Orlando Magic radio network and reminisced with Randy Krone about his days in Dallas, during the Magic's visit on January 8, 2011.

I came in as an assistant coach under Dick Motta. I had been with the New York Knicks for four years but I came in and we had a nice relationship. Dick was an excellent offensive coach and he wanted someone to coach the defense. That was kind of my thing and I was glad to get the opportunity to come in and coach the team. We had an excellent squad with Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, James Donaldson, Herb Williams, Sam Perkins and Brad Davis.

  • Were you surprised when Motta left after the Seattle playoff series of that year?

I was more than surprised because I had met with him at lunchtime the day I heard he was going to leave. Donald Carter was his biggest fan and had supported him for years. Something had happened and whatever it was, he was upset. But when you have your owner behind you, there's no reason to be upset. We met at lunch for two hours that day and I thought I had him talked out of it. Don Carter had said that he would get up and support him in any way he wanted him to. But before I knew it, Dick got up and said, "I'm leaving and the only two people I'm going to miss are Donald Carter and Richie Adubato."

I almost fell off the chair because we were going to continue to be good and had just had a horrendous ending to a great season. We had gone to Seattle who we had swept during the season without it even being close. We won the first game by about 35 so right away it was almost like we had beaten them seven times.

We came back for game two and there was an unbelievable call that I haven't seen since. We wee up by one with about 7 or 8 seconds to go and we were taking the ball out. All we had to do was get it in and they've got to foul us. Harper threw it in and the call was that he moved his pivot foot on the inbounds pass giving Seattle the ball. They go down to the other end and Dale Ellis take the ball in off a screen and hits a 3-pointer to beat us. So instead of being up 2-0, we're tied at 1-1 going to Seattle. Now they couldn't get the Kingdome so we played at Seattle University and it was a little matchbox. We really should have beaten them, which would have been eight times in a row. They were overdue to beat us, they were home and the won the game...now they're up 2-1.

They blew us out in the fourth game. We panicked and the whole season blew up in our face. They came out and hit their first five or six shots. You could tell by the look in our guys face that this whole season was now upon us. They stared really forcing shots and the more they did that the bigger hole we dug. It was a horrible ending. We had the summer but Dick had decided to go.

  • When John MacLeod was hired, did you have any question that you would stay as a member of his staff?

I don't think so. Management recommended me because we had improved so much defensively. We were now top ten defensively and I had known John, who is a great guy, so there was no problem with me staying with him.

  • In 1987-1988, Dallas went to the Western Conference finals - what are your memories of that playoff run?

I'll always remember that seven-game series against the Lakers against one of the all-time great teams even though we knew that the home court usually holds up. I'm a big believer in the home court advantage.

We lost it in seven games to a team that had Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Scott, Cooper and Rambis. We beat them three times in Dallas, they beat us three times in L.A. and they won the seventh game at home. Kareem is one of the greatest centers of all-time, Magic is one of the greatest guards of all-time and Worthy wasn't bad himself so it was a tough team that we lost to.

  • The 1989-1990 season began with a 5-6 record - did you know the Mavericks were considering a coaching change?

No, I didn't, it happened very quickly. We had been to the finals just a couple of years before and I really don't know why John was fired that quickly in the season, I just don't know what the story was. When you're that close to a championship season, you normally give the guy a chance to come out of the slump that wasn't that big of a slump to begin with.

I did not think they were going to give me the job as I think they had other people in mind. They decided to put me in as an interim-coach and I was lucky because Roy Tarpley was out early in that season but came back. Whenever we put Tarpley on the floor he could take you from a 44-game winner to about a 57-game winner. He game you a chance to compete with anyone in the league.

I'm doing radio with Orlando now and we have Dwight Howard here and really Tarpley, to me, was Dwight Howard with an outside jump shot. That's how good he was. His rebounding was incredible. He was seven-feet tall with long arms, he was physically tough, aggressive and he could shoot. Quite simply, he could do it all. It helped that we got him back and then we went on a big roll that year.

  • You brought Dallas back after you took over. The team was 42-29 under you and made the playoffs. Do you feel the team sort of rallied around you?

I've now done that twice, I took over the Orlando Magic in '97, and when you're an assistant coach it's a big advantage. You know the players and they know you. You're not coming in cold, you know the offensive and defensive plays and hopefully, over the years, you've developed a good rapport with most of them and they kind of believe in you. The fact that Motta and MacLeod had given me free reign as an assistant coach gave me the opportunity to work hard with the players on the court and to build confidence in me as a coach.

Here's what happened, Los Angeles took Sam Perkins away from us as a free agent that summer and Roy Tarpley went down with the ACL injury when we stared the next season. At that point we were winning 65% of our games and had just run into a Portland team, in the previous season's playoffs, that was very, very good and ended up going to the finals. But, we had split with the Pistons the previous season (we won here and they beat us there), we were ready to roll that wasn't a problem. We lost that Portland series to a team with Drexler, Duckworth and Buck Williams...that was a heck of a basketball team but I thought we could have beaten them but we weren't the same without Roy. I thought that if Tarpley had been with us we could have beaten them and it could have been us in the finals that year.

That next season, which I was really looking forward to, Roy hurt his knee early in the year. At halftime of the game, I was told not to worry about it as it was just a "tweak" but it turned out to be an ACL. So we lost Roy and we had already lost Sam Perkins when the Lakers came in and offered him a ton of money. I had played him at small forward and no one could begin to guard him as a small forward. He's 6'9 but plays like a seven-footer. So you took two guys off of a team that was going to be a great team. We were left with Blackman, Harper and Donaldson and that's when they decided we were going to rebuild.

  • Over the next couple of seasons you were playing with several players (Alex English, Fat Lever, Rodney McCray who were in the twilight of thier careers. Did you feel you had the players to keep the Mavericks on a high level?

I thought we'd still have Sam Perkins and Roy Tarpley when we added those three guys. So with that I thought we could be a championship team becuase they were veteran scorers who you knew how good they were. The next thing you know Sam is gone and Roy is gone. Now you find out that obviously Fat Lever had a bad knee, he never really played for us. He was in the pool most of the time. I told him that I wished I was coaching the U.S. Swim Team so that I could use him.

Alex was on the twilight and so was Rodney but you put those guys, with Sam and Roy alongside Derek and Ro and we're looking for at going for the whole thing but it blew up in our face. If we had been able to keep Perkins and Tarpley with Harper and Blackman, those three guys would have been a big help for us. It's just one of the breaks of life.

That last season we basically had a CBA team on the floor. We had Mike Iuzzolino at guard and Donald Hodge at center, guys people might not even remember. I had no complaints when they fired me but I told them I didn't know who they could get to win with that team because they're just too young and inexperienced. My assistant Gar Heard took over for me, won his first game and then lost something like twenty straight.

I told Rick Sund (Mavs Vice-President of Player Personnel) that I'd been in the league a long time and that the 1992-1993 team just might break the Philadelphia 76ers record of fewest wins in a season which was nine. I think they ended up winning eleven but part of the problem was not being able to sign our number one pick Jim Jackson. I never had him but when they did sign him he came in and won them five or six games which enabled them to avoid that record which would have been horrible. So it was great for my first four years here and a horror for the next three.

  • Before 1991-1992 began, Roy Tarpley was banned from the NBA for violating the league's substance abuse policy for the third time. As you look back, 20 yers later, how do you remember Roy Tarpley?

As an assistant coach, I was more-or-less in charge of Roy Tarpley. Basically Dick Motta said, "You take care of him." I usually have a pretty good relationship with the guys that are tough so I was in charge of him. I went to the meeting in Houston at John Lucas' Drug Rehab. One whole summer, I went down there twice a week and sat in on the meetings with Roy and the whole bit. We thought we had him on the road to being cured. But when we blew his knee out, a guy that has a serious drug problem is just sitting around for a whole year and the whole thing blew up.

I got very close to Roy sitting in on all those roundtable meetings. We had it all going but, as I said, it's very, very difficult when a guy goes down for the whole year and has all that time on his hands. Obviously, and unfortunately, Roy had a drug problem at a very young age so it's deeply embedded. I thought we had it but the injury time was the biggest problem and that blew the whole thing up.

  • What are your thoughts as you look back over your time with the Dallas Mavericks?

I love the city of Dallas. I loved Reunion Arena, the fans were great. They had the Cowboys but the Cowboys were down at that time so we had great support...it was fun. The media is great here and I still think the Dallas Morning News has the best sports section around. I come back here and it's about 16 pages whereas you go to most cities and you're lucky to get four or five pages.

It was a great time, I love Dallas. I'm happy in Orlando but if there is anywhere I'd ever want to come back to it would be Dallas. I'm from New Jersey and New York so it's not like I don't know big cities but Dallas is a big city that has theater, it's clean, it has tremendous enterprise and when I was here I just thought it was great.