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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Bad Boy Barred From NBA Jobs

Playing the role of Bad Boy is exhilarating. Wrestlers yearn for the attention, actors seek it as protection against typecasting and even Amy Farrah Fowler found the female version oddly titillating. But if the role is more actual than fanciful and you’re trying to get a job from the very people you prodded and goaded into mental errors and unwanted turnovers, such history can be problematic.

That’s the issue facing Bill Laimbeer, the baddest – or at least most annoying – of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys teams. Big Bill wants to be a NBA head coach but the offers haven’t come despite a history of success as a player and coach/general manager in the WNBA.

Laimbeer has interviewed twice with Detroit – perhaps just to pacify fans who still hold the Notre Dame grad in high esteem. Neither time was he deemed qualified. Instead, his former teammate and Pistons’ president of basketball operations, Joe Dumars, has hired a list of nondescript assistants who posted a combined .381 winning percentage. Flip Saunders, who replaced vagabond Larry Brown, was the notable exception.

Dumars is now searching for his fourth head coach in seven seasons. With NBA jobs unavailable, Laimbeer, who spent 2011 as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, accepted the job as head coach and general manager of the New York Liberty – returning to the female game where he’s had so much success.

As coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock, Laimbeer guided his team to six straight playoffs and three WNBA titles. He created a team in his own image. The Shock were tough, intelligent and won nearly 60 percent of their games. He also proved an adept talent evaluator with an ability to trade spare parts for star players.

In 2006 he pulled off what is widely considered the most lopsided trade in WNBA history, sending two players and a draft pick to Minnesota for three-time Olympian and likely hall of famer Katie Smith. Smith helped the Shock win two titles while those she were traded for had all washed out of the league within four years.

It seemed the job would serve as an weigh station until a job at the head office opened up. It never did. Laimbeer may have been a great Piston, but he’s been labled a women’s coach, and that’s the kiss of death.

Since the league was formed in 1996, no WNBA coach has moved on to become head coach of a NBA team. Such hiring practices are not just misguided, but perhaps sexist.

Whoever thought prejudice could keep a wealthy white man from getting a job?

The NBA has shown that it is better to have no experience as a coach than to have coached women. Currently, three NBA teams have head coaches who got their first top job without having any experience – Mark Jackson, Doc Rivers and Kevin McHale. They are not likely to be the last.

At 55 years old, Laimbeer’s time is running out. That’s too bad. Laimbeer knows basketball, knows talent and knows what its like to get the most out of one’s talent.

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