Dwane Casey and J.B. Bickerstaff are members of the NBA’s “second chance” coaching fraternity. They, along with Nate McMillian, Alvin Gentry and David Fizdale, are in their current positions after getting second or third head coaching opportunities — a rarity for Black coaches. Both Casey and Bickerstaff got their second chances after leaving Minnesota.
Now in his first season as Memphis head coach, Bickerstaff went from associate head coach to interim head coach after former coach Fizdale, now in his first season with the New York Knicks, was fired in late November 2017.
Fizdale was also Houston interim head coach early in the 2015-16 season after that coach was fired. There, he guided the Rockets to a 37-34 finish and a postseason berth.
Bickerstaff was an assistant coach in Minnesota from 2007-11 and before that, the same in Charlotte (2004-07), where he worked with his father and then-head coach Bernie Bickerstaff. Before going to the NBA, the younger Bickerstaff also served as director of operations for the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball program in the early 2000s.
“It means a lot,” Bickerstaff said earlier this season when his team played Minnesota. “It was tough to go through what we went through last year. You basically put your career on the line. Not a lot of places are going to give you a chance with all those losses,” said the first-year Grizzlies head coach.
Casey, after leading Toronto to its best season last year and earning two NBA Coach of the Year awards, was fired almost as soon as his name was announced last spring. Beginning in 1994, he has served as a head coach, associate head coach and assistant coach in the NBA for 23 seasons.
His first head coaching job came in Minnesota (2005-07). He was fired and later hired at Toronto, where he won four division titles and five consecutive playoff appearances. Detroit hired him last summer.
“I was going to land on my feet,” Casey said, cool and confident before his team played Minnesota last month. “I was going to bounce back and get another job. This league has been good [to me].”
Both Casey and Bickerstaff certainly paid their dues coaching while Black.
Opportunities for Blacks to coach can be elusive, and it comes with a hefty price on one’s career record. Often they are handed keys to a losing franchise with “Magic Negro” unrealistic expectations to turn things around. If they’re unsuccessful, their efforts in setting things up for the next coach to reap the benefits go largely unnoticed.
A great example is Mark Jackson, now an NBA analyst who coached Golden State for three seasons (2011-14) with young players such as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, among others. He later was fired and Steve Kerr took over, becoming like Joshua in leading the Warriors to the NBA Promised Land and winning three NBA titles in four tries. Only Kerr has publicly given credit to Jackson’s Moses-like efforts as his predecessor.
Bickerstaff told the MSR that his comfort level as a permanent head coach is getting there. “Obviously having a couple of stints in the past has helped. Until you actually do the job, you are not necessarily prepared for the job. The slide over one seat is a huge difference.”
We unabashedly root for Casey, Bickerstaff and all other Black coaches, no matter the sport or gender. We cheer for them in their first chances, and when necessary in their second or third chances as well.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org