- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009


“I feel so bad.” — Mets second baseman Luis Castillo after he dropped a pop-up with two outs in the ninth inning Friday to give the Yankees a 9-8 win


Unlike the NHL, it looks like the NBA Finals again won’t get to seven games. Too bad. I’ll miss the intense drama and fevered competition that only a Game 7 can provide. But mainly, I can’t get enough of Stan Van Gundy.

Forget Kobe and Pau, Superman and Turk. For my money, the star of the finals is Van Gundy, the short, squat, chronically rumpled, altogether-human Orlando Magic coach. I love this guy. I only wish he dialed up a foul at the end of regulation of Game 4 so Derek Fisher wouldn’t have launched the 3-pointer that led to overtime and the Magic losing and falling behind 3-1.

Still, missed free throws cost Orlando the game, and Stan doesn’t get to the line much. Overall, he gets a pass. He seems to know his job — before the season, or even the playoffs, who had the Magic in the finals? — and he’s so darned much fun.

Too many coaches lord over the bench with a corporate imperiousness — tie knotted, middle button of their jillion-dollar suit securely fastened, GQ’ed to the max. They say boring, predictable things and coach by the book. Not Stan. He’s no clone. The only one he resembles — vice versa, actually — is his younger brother, Jeff, a coach-turned-broadcaster who also bucked the image. Stan’s a regular guy who looks like he slept in a dresser drawer. He’s candid and funny. He vents and rants and wears his emotions on the sleeve of his collarless shirt. He makes unconventional coaching moves, like ditching both of his point guards for most of the fourth quarter. Sometimes they even work.

But that makes sense, because Stan His Own Man likes to take issue with certain opinions and debunk conventional wisdom. He gets prickly with the media but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of media these days who require the occasional debunking and issue-taking. What he calls the “simple cliche psychology” stuff is enticing to discuss but often means little of substance.

By the way, nothing personal against Lakers coach Phil Jackson, but he’s got too much going on. Obviously he’s a great coach. He’s also tall, speaks in a resonant baritone and now, after several years of experimenting, has settled on a distinguished, elder-statesman look. He has won all those titles and dates the boss’ daughter. And of course there’s the Zen thing. Van Gundy is none of that, with the cheesy mustache and whiny voice to prove it. He never played in the pros. He played for his dad at a Division III school.

He’s real people and a better coach than many who aren’t.

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