MINNEAPOLIS — Rick Adelman was receiving congratulations from his Minnesota Timberwolves players after the final seconds of Saturday’s 107-101 win against the Detroit Pistons had ticked away when he turned away from the group and looked for his wife, Mary Kay.
Mary Kay Adelman, who had been by Rick’s side through a lengthy NBA coaching career, was there again — just as Rick had hoped — and the two shared a hug, Near the end of a trying season, Adelman’s 22nd as an NBA coach, there was finally a reward for all the trials of the past few months.
Minnesota beat the Detroit Pistons Saturday to make Adelman the eighth coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins.
“Its way up there,” Adelman said of where the accomplishment ranks in his career. “Now that it’s done, you think of all the years and everything else, it’s pretty special. This has been a difficult year, and you got to think (owner Glen Taylor) and (president of basketball operations David Kahn) and the whole organization for staying behind me because it was a tough situation. But there was never a doubt that I was going to be able to do what I thought I needed to do because of their support.”
Earning the landmark victory at home, with his wife in attendance, made the achievement even sweeter. Before the final buzzer, Adelman leaned over to the second row on the Timberwolves bench and whispered to his son David, an assistant coach on his staff, to bring Mary Kay down to the court.
“She had to be a part of it,” Adelman said. “I told her I had to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She’s been there all the years. When you go through a job like this and the situations, we’ve moved and raised six kids and everything else. If it wasn’t for her, I could have never done it. That’s why I’m really glad we did it here.”
Adelman, with a career coaching record of 1,000-703, never thought his journey to 1,000 wins would unfold quite this way. Adelman, who started 2012-13 with 971 career victories as an NBA head coach, finally had the Timberwolves set up the way he wanted. Holdovers Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were joined by Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and rookie Alexey Shved. Designs were on making the postseason in Minnesota for the first time since 2004 and ending the longest current playoff drought in the NBA.
Injuries then hit his team quickly and persistently, with win No. 1,000 finally coming in the 76th game of the year. The milestone is only slightly more memorable than the obstacles along the way.
Love, the All-Star forward, has been limited to 18 games because of hand injury. Roy lasted only five games with his troublesome knees. Budinger, the outside shooter so perfect for Adelman’s system, has played in just 17 games because of a knee injury.
And all of that paled in comparison to the real struggle for Adelman in January when Mary Kay was hospitalized after having seizures. Adelman missed 11 games to be with her. Yet, through everything, and with Mary Kay improving, Adelman finally earned the honor.
“He cares so much for his players,” said Budinger, who also played for Adelman in Houston. “We’re just pleased we were able to do it on the home court, in front of his family, especially in front of his wife. Special night, special night for him.”
The coach will say the achievement isn’t important to him. He has told reporters his most important win was his first, a 124-102 victory against Miami on Feb. 26, 1989 with the Portland Trail Blazers. He will instead say he is proud of his current club for strongly finishing off this season, another disappointment in a long line of them for Minnesota. The Timberwolves have won six of their last nine games, including victories against Oklahoma City, Boston and on the road at Milwaukee.
Adelman will say he’s proud of his team. Saturday, his players returned the compliment, honoring their coach with win No. 1,000. The best way they can recognize Adelman’s persistence is playing hard through the end, such as they did against the Pistons. A night earlier, Minnesota lost a late lead to the Toronto Raptors. This time, the Timberwolves — now 29-47 and far out of the playoff chase — finished the job.
“Amazing,” Rubio said of Adelman. “Every day you learn something. That’s not a lot of coaches you can do it. He’s smart. He knows how to play and how to run a team. You learn something different every day.”
Fellow coaches, such as Detroit’s Lawrence Frank, say Adelman is the most underrated coach in NBA history. The quiet 66-year-old certainly doesn’t exude the bravado that could come with his amazing numbers.
In his 22 seasons, Adelman’s teams have reached the playoffs 18 times. In his fifth coaching stop in the NBA, the Timberwolves are about to make it 0 for 2 in postseason berths. Adelman has been to the conference finals four times and twice made the NBA finals but is still missing that elusive championship.
In reaching 1,000 wins Saturday, he became the fifth-fastest coach to reach the mark in terms of games coached — only Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and George Karl have achieved the total quicker. He owns a .587 career winning percentage.
“Some of the names up there, it’s incredible,” Adelman said. “I never ever expected to be with that group. But like I said before, I’ve had some really special situations and we were able to stay in a couple places a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. Which, to get that many wins, there’s good players involved and good coaching staffs involved and good organizations involved. So it was special to get this.”
That winning percentage has taken a hit in two injury-filled seasons in Minnesota. But Adelman is still going, plugging along with a team he enjoys. So much so, that maybe he’ll keep the run going with his current contract scheduled to tie him to the Timberwolves through the 2014-15 season. And maybe he can finally have the complete team he’s wanted all season and add to his historic totals.