I played for David Blatt, the rookie NBA head coach who suddenly has LeBron James on his Cleveland Cavaliers roster. In fact, I played extra hard for David Blatt–everybody did. Granted, I was 14-years-old at the time. It was the late 1970s and David Blatt was still a guard at Princeton–an unusually strong one. Blatt was also a counselor at the basketball camp I went to run by the legendary Princeton University coach Pete Carril, the mastermind of the “Princeton Offense” and a cigar-puffing demigod of disciplined hoops. (Legendary gets tossed around a lot, but Pete Carril–ask any true basketball fan, or a 1996 UCLA Bruin–is a legend of the game.)
Blatt was an indelible, gravitational presence in the gym, fierce and energetic and sharp-edged. He cajoled, encouraged and demanded effort and achievement–and always progress–from his young basketball aspirants. And he expected the same standards from the other counselors. After all, many of them were his teammates at Princeton. The respect they had for Blatt was evident. In fact I’d gone to Pete Carril’s camp just a week after attending Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s equally strong basketball camp–and I remembered thinking that everyone at Carril’s camp treated Blatt just the way the pros at Clyde’s camp treated Clyde–as the man to emulate. So it was with great excitement a few weeks ago that I dashed to Google after seeing the TV ticker that said the Cavaliers had signed a coach named David Blatt. Wikipedia duly informed me of David Blatt’s steady winning ways around the globe since an afternoon long ago when he’d forced me to dribble with my left hand only for an hour straight. Even just seeing the name flash on the ticker brought back vivid memories of David Blatt’s ramrod posture and his intensity, his desire to win and to teach. Cleveland may be happy about LeBron James coming home, but there are many pieces to a winning puzzle. The Cavs might be as lucky to have Blatt as they are to have the King.