DENVER (AP) — Michael Malone will be staring up when the Denver Nuggets raise their championship banner Tuesday night before the season opener.
He'll be looking past the banner, though, in remembrance of his late father, who also happened to be his friend, mentor and biggest supporter.
Brendan Malone, the longtime coach and driving force behind the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” defenses in the late 1980s and early ’90s, died nearly two weeks ago. He was 81.
“I’m always thinking about him,” Michael Malone, the coach of the Nuggets, said after the team went through practice Monday on the eve of hosting LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. “He’s with me every step of the way. And so tomorrow night, when we celebrate and raise that banner, it’s going to be a great moment for our fans, first and foremost, and for the franchise. But I know my father will be here. He bought tickets on StubHub. He’ll be here.”
Malone, who's beginning his ninth season with Denver, always received a text or call from his dad following every game. For the first time that he can recall, there were no words of wisdom awaiting him after the preseason finale in Los Angeles against the Clippers last week.
“And that hit me," Malone said. “That was hard.”
His father spent three decades as an assistant or head coach in the NBA, working for the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and the Pistons.
It was operating alongside Chuck Daly with the Pistons from 1988-95 that Brendan Malone helped invent “The Jordan Rules,” a set of defensive principles designed to curtail Michael Jordan’s scoring prowess. It led to a pair of NBA titles for Detroit in 1989 and ’90.
On Tuesday, Michael Malone will receive a championship ring of his own. Like his father, he may rarely wear the ring.
“He always thought those rings were in the safety-deposit box,” said Malone, whose team went 16-4 in the playoffs on the way to franchise's first NBA crown, including a sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. “But my mother put them in his underwear drawer. So that’s probably where mine will be as well."
Once the banner is raised and the rings are handed out, it’s all about the quest to repeat as NBA champions. Really, though, Malone has long ago stopped looking back, only forward.
Just the way his dad would have instructed.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for everything that he had done for me," Malone said. "He knows I love him. He’ll be here tomorrow night.”
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