Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Bernie Bickerstaff paces around the practice court, barking instructions and encouragement to players. He directs his team through offensive and defensive sets, making sure no detail is ignored and no potential situation left unaddressed. He is firm and specific in his instructions, ensuring the message is heeded, but doesn’t hesitate to crack a smile during lighter moments.

Bickerstaff’s streaks of gray hair are apparent but his vigor and fondness for the game are as strong as ever. He isn’t on the sport’s largest stage in the NBA anymore, but that’s fine with him he’s enjoying the game as much as he ever has, as a consultant and coach with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Bickerstaff has served as a consultant to the team for the last five years and came on as a coach last month when the Globetrotters started their nine-game tour against college teams, which finished last night with a 90-46 win over Catholic University. Fired as the Washington Wizards coach in April, 1999, Bickerstaff, who considers himself “semi-retired,” is enjoying his opportunity.

“The warmth that the Globetrotters receive throughout the country has been terrific,” said Bickerstaff yesterday at the Globetrotters’ pre-game shootaround. “It’s been a terrific experience to be in basketball, around basketball, and for people to pay you, to do something you love.”

Things have come full circle for Bickerstaff, who made the Globetrotters after he finished his playing career at the University of San Diego but decided to finish school and enter coaching in 1968. He is a long-time friend of the Globetrotters owner, Mannie Jackson, and coach, Charles “Tex” Harrison. Jackson first offered Bickerstaff the opportunity to coach the team two years ago, and after skipping last season, Bickerstaff jumped at the chance to return for the Globetrotters’ exhibitions against college teams.

“He’s brought a scientific knowledge of the game and can put it in perspective,” Harrison said. “His knowledge commands a lot of respect.”

“Basically, I’ve been on call whenever Mannie wants me, or the Globetrotters want me, whatever I can do to help, I’m there for them,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s a terrific organization.”

Bickerstaff also had good things to say about the Wizards, who have had five coaches since they fired him 32 games into the 1999 season. (Bickerstaff had a 13-19 record when he was fired.) He spent more than 14 seasons with Washington, including 1973 to ‘85 as an assistant coach. Bickerstaff led the St. Louis franchise of the IBL to titles in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons.

“They have some nice young players, and Michael has certainly enhanced the image,” said Bickerstaff, who still resides in the area. “I hope things work out for them. They’re an organization that needs to catch a break. They’ve had bad luck. And it started to turn they had a first round pick for the first time in a long time. They just have to stay the course.”

Bickerstaff’s son, Bernard, has joined his father on the Globetrotters’ staff for the last month, giving Bickerstaff an opportunity to bond with his son that he didn’t have while coaching in Seattle, Denver and Washington.

“That’s one element that you miss the family element in these jobs,” Bickerstaff said.

Bickerstaff’s daughter is helping to produce Saturday’s Bayou Classic, the annual clash between Southern and Grambling, and Bickerstaff is off to New Orleans to be with her later this week. Then it will be back to the District, where other than remaining a consultant to the Globetrotters, Bickerstaff said, “I’m just taking life easy.”

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