Q&A: Lionel Hollins

Posted by Unknown on Sunday, October 26, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Steve Serby

Q: Will Nets fans enjoy watching your team play?
A: I hope so, because we’re gonna go out there and get after it. As I told the players, “It’s not gonna be pretty every night — but we still want to win.”
Q: When you say “get after it,” what does that mean?
A: We don’t want anybody to ever out-work us. If you out-work the other team and you play together, you have a lot of chances to be successful. Because, it’s not just the talent. In any walk of life, it’s not just the talent. There’s people that are more talented, that are walking on the street, that, if they had opportunity to be out here, you would be like, “Wow!” But they won’t succeed out here because they don’t have the whole package that it takes.
Q: Do you feel better about this team now than you did at the start of training camp or when you took the job?
A: I think we have more talent than people give us credit for. I think that healthy, we’ll be in the mix.
Q: Describe Kevin Garnett.
A: Very professional … a very verbal, great leader … works hard. When you look at a guy that has been in the league as long as he has, his work ethic is the same as when he first came in the league. Every day in practice, he’s giving me all he has, he doesn’t want to sit out, so it’s been a beautiful experience from seeing him and the way he carries himself as a professional.
Q: You have to obviously, him being 38 years old, monitor …
A: Oh yeah, we’ve talked about even days off from practice, stepping out of some drills and not trying to do every drill like he was 24 years old.
Q: What makes him such a good leader?
A: It’s his maturity, and pride in doing things the right way. He has an unbelievable work ethic, and he brings that every day, which opens him up to be an example. When you go out there and you give it every time you’re on the court, you can yell at somebody and tell somebody they’re not working hard. If you’re sporadic in your work ethic, how can you yell at somebody else? You’re not gonna be a leader because they’re not gonna respect you.
Q: Who have you had in your previous stops that would be comparable to him leadership-wise?
A: Nobody, really. Charles Barkley had the ability to charm the media, take the weight off everybody, from a pressure perspective. But as far as how KG carries himself, I haven’t been around anybody quite like that as a coach.
Q: That’s a luxury to have a lieutenant like that, isn’t it?
A: No question. If you ask me about all of our players, I think Deron Williams has stepped up in his leadership. He and Joe Johnson and Brook [Lopez], all of ’em are taking more ownership in the team. I don’t know if it had anything to do with me. It’s just that they sense that it’s the time. … That’s the only way you can be a good team is if everybody out there — if you have a restaurant and you put an interest in it, you want to make sure, OK those dishes aren’t clean, we’re not treating the people correctly. Same way out here. It’s not just your salary, but it’s who people perceive you to be … as a group. So, as individuals, you gotta help the other guys become better, and you gotta step up and speak up.
Q: Deron Williams.
A: I hate that the media has disparaged him so much. There’s so many expectations on a guy when he comes to another team in a trade. And then, he got the big contract, and then there’s even more expectations. To not be healthy to be able to do what he wanted to do is disappointing for him. But the fans and the media didn’t quite take it that way, and I think he’s healthy now and he’s in a good frame of mind, and he’s shown a lot of qualities. … Is he gonna be the 23-year-old Deron Williams? Heck no. But the Deron Williams that he can be and I see him being is going to be pretty good. And he’s gonna be one of the top guards in the league, and that’s good enough with me.
Q: Joe Johnson.
A: As he said, he’s a hooper. He said, “Coach, you don’t have to worry about me. However, whatever you do and how you do it, I’ll be out there.” I love it. You got guys that have been in the league a long time, and they want to tell you how they’re going to do it. I have a group of guys that want me to tell them how I want to do it. And it makes coaching fun. Not easy, but fun (smile).
Q: Brook Lopez.
A: Brook Lopez is a massive man. He can really score the ball, and really smart, really a good guy … really sensitive to wanting to do everything right. I sometimes frustrate Brook because I still yell at him. And I said, “I understand that you were trying to do the right thing, or you want to do the right thing, and you think you’re doing the right thing, but it’s my job to help you do the right thing.” I think nice guys like Brook think because they’re trying to do the right thing, there should be no feedback — a negative feedback. And when I say negative — constructive criticism. But my motto is: Even nice guys have to be pushed (smile).
Q: You’ve gotta be a psychologist with different guys, right?
A: Well, I think coaching is multiple parts of everything. It’s father figure, big brother, confidante, psychologist. … I have to understand what makes everybody tick.
Q: Do you right now?
A: I think I have a pretty good feel for it.
Q: Basically, you don’t want them to be nice guys on the court.
A: You could be a nice guy anytime you want to be, but you have to compete. When you compete, there’s conflict. Because you have one person over here trying to impose their will on another person over here who’s trying to impose his will — and when you got two people trying to impose their will, there’s conflict. And, the person who’s stronger-minded, who’s the most aggressive, who’s the toughest — they usually win out.
Q: Will your team be …
A: I’m trying to get there. It’s a process.
Q: Get where?
A: To being tougher, more aggressive. … It’s like I told [Mason Plumlee] after the game, I said, “Mase, I know you were tired.” But I said, “I didn’t care. I want to see if you were going to quit because you were tired, or you were going to continue to try to play hard. Now, you may not have gotten it done because you’re spent, but I can tell that you’re still trying. But when you stop and walk and just give up, that’s what I want up see — if you’ll do that, or if you’ll keep battling.”
Q: A lot of it’s mental toughness.
A: That’s what life is, mental toughness. The survivors, the ones that make it, are the ones that are mentally tough because life isn’t peaches and cream every day. And the game isn’t peaches and cream. It’s easy to win when you shoot 55, 60 percent, 70 percent, the referee gives you every call, you get every loose ball bounce your way … but, games aren’t that way. It’s like a great pitcher, when he goes out there and he doesn’t have his stuff and he still gives the manager eight innings, and the score is 1-0. It’s about the will over the skill, as Muhammad Ali said. And it’s true. That’s what competition is about, it’s imposing your will. And you can never quit, you can never back down. And there’s times when you’re hurting and you’re tired, but you just keep plugging. And the one thing that you get out of all of that, win or lose, you can go home and sleep at night knowing that you laid it out there.
Q: What’s your definition of mental toughness?
A: Being able to overcome all adversity. You’re missing shots: Are you gonna quit playing because you can’t make shots, or are you gonna try to do something else? When we need you to take a big shot even though you missed a shot because you’re the guy that’s been taking ’em all the time, are you willing to take ’em? Are you willing to step in there and take a charge when you got four fouls, you know?
Q: It sounds like you want a team like the borough you represent.
A: That would be good. My thing is, everything about growing up was tough. Everything about having success was tough. Overcoming adversity, obstacles … but, I’m a better person, and I know who I am, because of those experiences.
Q: Biggest obstacle you had to overcome was what?
A: Well, growing up in the ’60s in America (chuckle) … in poverty … the opportunities weren’t all there. There were a lot of schools that didn’t have black athletes in ’em even as I got up to high school. Charlie Scott in 1968 was the first black that played in the ACC. I had counselors suggest that I go to trade school and be an auto mechanic. I had a guy who I worked for at Denny’s suggest that I quit school and he’d teach me how to be a fry cook. … I look at, from reflection when I was in it, I was just trying to survive. But I look at it as America’s revolution, for freedom. Just like you look at the [Berlin] Wall coming down, just like you look at Tiananmen Square standoff, just like you look at the Arab countries and all of their uprisings.
Q: So describe what it was like being a young black man in the late ’60s, early ’70s.
A: It was one of survival. It’s one of trying to stay alive, and not be in the wrong spot at the wrong time, whether it would be in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong skin color, or dealing with police. … It was making sure I stayed in my lane so that I didn’t get hurt.
Q: Were you ever denied …
A: Many times. Couldn’t go to a certain swimming pool. We didn’t have a Little League baseball team on our side of town. When we were bused to the other side of town, there was no late bus so we could get home. If you weren’t on that first bus, you weren’t getting home except for walking, and if you walked, your life was in danger (chuckle), you know? And nobody from that side of town was coming over there to pick you up, so you made sure you made that bus every afternoon. … All those experiences make me the man that I am now, negative or positive. And I always say that no matter what situation you’re in, there’s something to gain from it, whether it’s negative or positive.
Q: Your team can look to you as an example of the kind of toughness that you want to see from them.
A: No question. That’s why I probably coach the way I do and why I respect that aspect of a person, because life is tough. Nobody’s giving you anything. There’s no entitlements, there’s no you are owed this — it was like, “Just give me an opportunity, open up the door so I can … fight my way in.” If you offered food to a poor person, they might beat you up because they had so much pride, like, “Hey, I’m capable of working, I just need opportunity for a job.”
Q: So the best thing that this team can be is a reflection of you.
A: I would like for it to be a reflection of me. Adopt that attitude that we persevere, we don’t quit, and we’re gonna compete and when the game is over, you’re gonna pat me on the butt and say, “Hey, that was a helluva battle. I don’t want to go against you again.” I look at Apollo Creed in “Rocky.” He didn’t want a rematch ’cause that boy he was in front of, he beat him, but he knew he was in a war. And I always feel like this: In competition, without that, greatness can’t be born. If those teams that the Bulls played all those years to make Michael Jordan rise up and do what he did didn’t compete the way they did, Michael Jordan couldn’t have been Michael Jordan. He would have been Michael Jordan, but there wouldn’t have been no heroic moments because they woulda just won easily.
Q: The Brooklyn Nets: Rocky Balboa in sneakers?
A: I like to say Muhammad Ali in sneakers (chuckle). People don’t realize Muhammad Ali took some beatings to win some of those matches, from Joe Frazier and some others. As good as he was, he had so much more heart than all of those guys.
Q: Is Mason Plumlee ready to take a step forward?
A: Well he keeps taking two forward and one back, two forward and one back. We gotta keep it going forward. He’s very strong-willed, and I like that about him. I yell at him, and he’s kinda the guy that gets my wrath every day … film session he gets it … but he keeps coming back, and to me, that’s a mark of a winner.
Q: Bogdan Bogdanovic.
A: I’d like him to just play basketball and not worry about deferring … just go play.
Q: Mirza Teletovic.
A: Mirza’s gonna give me a lot of gray hair (smile). I remember [Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich saying about [Manu] Ginobli, that he didn’t know what Ginobli was gonna do half the time on the court, but most of it’s good. I feel the same way about Mirza. I never know what he’s gonna do. And a lot of times it turns out to be good.
Q: Coaches in other sports you admire?
A: My favorite pro coach is [Bill] Belichick.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because he’s tough, he’s to the point. … He’s not about all the frills of being a star, he’s about coaching. I like that. Nick Saban is my favorite college coach. I’ve spent time with him and say in on meetings and gone to his practices and … I just like the game. I like what it represents. Sports were created to be extracurricular activities to develop men. It teaches teamwork, hard work, perseverance. Those skills were taken into the real world. And I still believe that, and I still thinks it works. When you look at [Popovich], nobody calls him old school. But he feels the same way. And he’s my favorite pro coach. Phil Jackson — the same way. It has nothing to do with age, it has to do with trying to build a successful group.
Q: Do you have a relationship with Belichick? Do you call him?
A: I’ve never met him. All through my career as a player, and even now, I watch interviews, I watch coaches and what they say. I remember when Phil Jackson took the Laker job, it’s like, “The players want to win, they want to do this.” He was setting a tone for what he was gonna do with [Shaquille O’Neal] and Kobe [Bryant] before he even got there. He was laying the groundwork [about] how difficult it was going to be, but he was showing what his expectations and demands were, and they were already buying into it before he got there.
Q: Describe a Lionel Hollins the basketball player.
A: Tough, aggressive and intelligent. One that is a basketball player versus a specialist. Versatility, if you can have a guy that can play 2-3, 1-2, 4-5, it really helps in terms of getting minutes for all your guys that you’re gonna play. It really makes it easier on you rotation-wise. But versatility also allows you to play multiple styles.
Q: What won’t you tolerate?
A: I will not tolerate not playing hard. I will not tolerate not playing together, and quitting. There are some other things. … That’s not across the board — I might tolerate something with a star player before I’ll tolerate it with a young player.
Q: How do you motivate?
A: I demand, have expectations, but I also develop relationships. I believe that talking to players and getting their side of the story and letting them understand where I am, who I am, how I do things is important. I don’t want to just, “You gotta do it because it’s my way — this is why we’re doing it. This is what I think. What do you think?” Well, your experience is a little bit limited, you haven’t really won if you’re a player that’s never been on a winning team. … There’s certain things that you share with them. And I think I’m very, very open and blunt. I’m not one to try to soft-sell. It is what it is. We’re in a business of trying to get it done, and I want you to know you’re not getting it done, I’m gonna tell you.
Q: Does this description fit you: no-nonsense … tough but fair … old-school?
A: I don’t like the old-school part (smile). I think discipline — not the discipline of fining somebody ’cause they’re late — but the discipline of doing your job, the right way all the time, 100 percent — is not old-school. That’s about being successful, whether it be on this athletic field, or in life. It’s the same discipline that you need. I believe in doing your job, doing it to the max, and being professional about doing it. And being a good guy. You’re only a basketball player, you’re not somebody that can cancer or anything like that. So those are the types of things that bother me, when guys think that they’re more than this game, and they’re more than their teammates. I hate when players say, “My supporting cast.” Give me a freakin’ break. They’re your teammates! I don’t think anybody in my era would tolerate somebody calling ’em a supporting cast.
Q: You know former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy.
A: Tony gave me some good advice that [former Steelers coach] Chuck Noll had given him, when he was a defensive back. We were going through the Allen Iverson situation and our owner was really wanting him to stay and play, and I thought we needed to move on. And Tony says Chuck Noll told him one time: “Stubborn is a virtue — if you’re right (chuckle).”
Q: Describe legendary former Trail Blazers coach, the late Jack Ramsay.
A: Disciplined. Focused. Prepared, organized. Competitive. Now there was a no-nonsense guy. Just a great person. He was like one of my alltime favorite all around. You have coaches that you like for certain reasons, but we became good friends over the years.
Q: Bill Walton.
A: The Voice (chuckle). He’s a guy who took me in when I first came into Portland. Before we even started training camp really, he came and got me and started working out with me, and we became friends. And he’s very loyal to his friends, and it’s probably gotten him in more trouble than it should have, you know, back in the ’70s. He was very radical. I think he’s moved more right wing — not far, but he’s moved a little bit to the right.
Q: Maurice Lucas.
A: That was my guy. Out of all the people that I played with and played against, that I’m friends with now — that was my guy. He took care of me. He was my big brother that I never had. I remember I bought a Mercedes, and we were out to dinner, and I had a flat, and I didn’t know how to change the flat (laugh). He stopped, got out, all dressed up, changed the flat for me. He kept people off of me in the games. He always had my back. And anytime he had a deal to make money, he made sure I was included in it.
Q: Your Arizona State coach, Ned Wulk.
A: Coach Wulk was my second college father figure. When I was being recruited, there were a lot of guys — it was that era where all the white coaches were trying to act like they were black — trying to be buddy-buddy with black guys — “Hey my man!” and give an old black handshake, and Coach Wulk wasn’t like that. He never promised me that I would start, he never promised me that he was going to be less than anything to me. Everybody wondered why I went to school to play for him. Because he was exactly what I wanted. He was a guy that was going to be tough, that was going to drive me to be what I wanted to be. Make me go to school, keep me out of trouble. And he did all of those things, and he also took care of me as a son. When I needed something, he never shied away from taking care of me, introducing me to somebody that could. But he didn’t sell me to get me there. But he took care of me after I got there.
Q: Describe your grandmother.
A: She was the most important person in my life. I got a lot of her in me. Our kids say it all the time: “You’re just like Grandma Margaret (chuckle).”
Q: In what way?
A: How I talk, what I do. What I say, I repeat after her all the time. She was my mother, my father. … I can talk to her about things that probably most boys can’t talk to mothers or grandmothers about. She wanted me to learn the birds and bees and she went bought me a Playboy (laugh).
Q: She did?
A: She didn’t buy it. The guy that she worked for, he had Playboys, and she got a couple, and she gave one to me. Now what grandmother’s gonna do that for a teenager? She was everything. She was a confidante. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t talk to her about. There wasn’t anything that she wouldn’t talk to me about, and she had a lot of wise wisdom, and I hold onto all of that.
Q: If you could pick the brain of three basketball coaches in history, who would you pick?
A: Red Auerbach … John Wooden. … To limit to three would be really, really hard ’cause there’s some current ones that I’d like to pick their brain like [Duke coach Mike] Krzyzewski. I’d even like to talk to Bobby Knight, ’cause the one thing I always tell people I respect Bobby Knight about is every guy that stayed four years graduated that Bobby Knight coached. Not everybody can say that. Now he could be harsh and stupid in some areas, but he was a great coach and a great developer of men. All his players are very successful in life.
Q: You were already in the league when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson arrived.
A: When I talk about Magic and Bird, I put the whole Dream Team in the same boat. They not only were talented, they not only were competitive, but they understood the big picture of the game. And that’s why you could take all those guys and put ’em together and have ’em sacrifice some of their game for the good of the team, and win the way they did.
Q: Describe Coaching the Las Vegas Bandits on the International Basketball League.
A: When I got that job, I called George Karl — or he called me — but he says, “It’ll be your best time you’ll ever have coaching.” Not quite — coaching in Memphis with those guys was pretty good. But you had a bunch of guys who wanted to be in the league, they respected you because you’d been in the league, both as a player and as a coach, and now, they’re hearing everything you say, they want to do everything you say. It was a great year. Unfortunately, we folded. There was a lot of money left on the table. But we had the second-best record in the league, it was behind Bernie Bickerstaff and his St. Louis team. But it was great.
Q: What drives you?
A: When I was young, fear of failure drove me. But I’ve overcome that. I’m not afraid to fail, I’m not afraid to lose, because my whole self-esteem was tied to winning when I was young — coming up poor, not having anything, that was the only way I was equal to everybody was being on the athletic field. I mean, not even equal — I was better. So that gave me good self-esteem. And I found out that wasn’t the most important thing. What drives me is just … go out and just do what I’m supposed to do, be successful. It’s so easy to fail. It’s so easy to lose. I’ve always respected and liked people that won. Like when I used to watch the Celtics and the old Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs — we used to get hockey on TV, and I’d watch it, and what it took for them to win. There’s gotta be something different going on with them than it is with everybody else. You look at Boston and Philadelphia and how great they were and how great the Lakers were — there was something that Boston had, that those two other great franchises didn’t have.
Q: And that was?
A: They had this inner desire to compete for each other, and not about stardom. The Celtics were one of the first teams — you talk about the Knicks in the ’70s — the Celtics were doing that, playing and guys accepting roles and sacrificing some of their game. I mean, you don’t think that Sam Jones could have been greater if he was on a different team? You don’t think John Havlicek could have been greater if he was on a different team?
Q: So how do you make that happen?
A: If I could articulate it, I’d write a book. It’s every day, it’s being consistent every day with your message. It’s expecting, it’s demanding. You’ll hear me, all year long I’ll be saying the same thing. The message is never different. Success message is not different, failure message is not different. People try to create niches for themself when they’re over here writing books, and got this new model and they’re making money. But the reality is if you go break down whatever success book there is, the message is the same — you gotta have a vision, you gotta plan, and you gotta work it, and you gotta persevere. ‘Cause there’s gonna be obstacles everywhere. I gave you one of my motivational lines: Everybody has a story. The successful people are always telling you what they overcame to be successful. The people that aren’t successful are telling you everything that got in their way and caused them not to make it. And it wasn’t their fault.
Q: As a kid, there were things that you wanted that you couldn’t have?
A: Every day. … Just a pair of sneakers … a pair of pants without holes in ’em (chuckle), to look like everybody else, to not have the big welfare truck to come around and give you that Spam and cheese and powdered milk, and have everybody talk about you and laugh at you. The funny thing about it, they were all in the same boat I was (laugh).
Q: What was that like for you?
A: It was embarrassing. We’d go to school, we’d have to go into one line where all the … ADC people, that Aid to Dependent Children line. … Everybody knew we didn’t have any money. And when busing took place, we were going to the other side of town and all the black kids were in that line ’cause they didn’t have any money to get lunch. Everybody knew you were poor. It’s embarrassing. But my grandmother always said, “Being poor doesn’t represent who you are. It’s just your circumstances. And you don’t have to stay in these circumstances.” And she used to say, “You don’t have to be dirty, and you don’t need to steal and cheat and lie ’cause you’re poor.” And she was a stickler for that.
Q: I think New York’s gonna like you.
A: (Chuckle) Well, I hope they respect me for what I try to do, because everybody wants to have an opinion of how to do it. And, I have to do it my way because it’s who I am. And I’m comfortable with it, and if it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work, they’ll get somebody else. But I can’t be what … Bill Cosby said it, he says, “I don’t know the key to success, but I know the key to failure, and that’s trying to please everybody else.” So I gotta do it my way.
Q: You won a championship ring with the Trail Blazers in 1977.
A: It represents that we reached the pinnacle of our profession, and they can’t take that away from us, and when they talk about me they always talk about me as a world champion. And that’s very important. There’s a legacy. It helps when I go mentor kids, and it helps when I coach. Just from the fact that they know that I’ve been there, and that’s where they want to get.
Q: Sacrifice was the key?
A: Sacrifice was a big part of it. We had strong personalities. Jack always denied it. I said, “Jack, you know that was a tough team to coach.” You had Bill, you had [Lucas], you had me, you had [Dave] Twardzik, you had Herm Gilliam … just strong- willed individuals. And he just managed us.
Q: A poll of NBA GMs gave you and Tom Thibodeau one vote each as Best Coach and Popovich got all the rest.
A: (Laugh) Every time I speak, I say this: I’m not the best coach, nor am I the smartest coach, but I don’t care. That’s not my goal. My goal is to try to get my team to win. I would have voted for Pop.
Q: The China trip was your fifth visit there.
A: First time in 1982.
Q: How is it different now?
A: Obviously, it’s more commercialized. I saw more Mercedes and BMWs and Jaguars (smile). When I went in ’82, there were no cars. It was all bikes, or buses. The government had all the cars, and everybody wore drab colors. Now, they got neon lights, and bright billboards, and big malls with expensive stores in ’em. The hotel we stayed in Shanghai, right next door, shoot, there’s a mall that looks like it could be on Fifth Avenue.
Q: Favorite author?
A: Ken Follett.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: I eat everything, that’s my problem (laugh). The last one I had is the favorite!
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: I would like to go back and have a dinner conversation with one of the generals, either Patton, MacArthur. Those guys were unbelievable leaders. When I study them, the stuff that they got done — we should not have won World War II. We had some amazing generals. We probably shouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without George Washington. And even the Civil War, when you start thinking about all the generals that were bad for Abraham Lincoln and then here comes on Grant. Leaders, people who have stepped over and above the ordinary — not for themselves and their own stardom, but to help our country, and to help the world. I can’t name them all off right now, but there’s some amazing people that have come through our lifetime that have changed, because of their leadership ability, to lead other people to do better.