Restaurant owner John Ginopolis was one of Chuck Daly's best friends. He roomed with him during the 1988 NBA Finals. Daly frequently came to his Farmington Hills restaurant.
Saturday's news of Daly's death after a battle with pancreatic cancer was tough on Ginopolis.
"You never thought anything would happen to him," Ginopolis said. "You never think of Daly getting sick. He looked so good before this happened. I can't believe it."
Ginopolis' sentiments were shared throughout the NBA. Daly had an air of invincibility about him; as an NBA coach he spoke well, dressed well, and carried himself with dignity and class.
But he was human, just like everybody else. That was evident during a road trip to Portland. A curtain accidently opened to a training room and there was Daly, face-down on a table getting a back massage. It was a routine for Daly, who had chronic back pain but didn't want anybody to know about the pain that sometimes caused him to lean over when he walked.
Daly looked upset when his secret was blown. The curtain closed quickly and Daly's massage continued.
Daly always appeared younger than his age. He had the best hair on the team and relished his image of being a cool dude.
Other memories that stand out:
Later that night, the Pistons remained at their hotel because of a flight curfew at Logan Airport. I ran into Daly in the hotel bar and he was still livid.
"We've got to get rid of him," Daly said.
Daly's words were much spicier, but you get the point.
I was stunned because players and coaches often kept private matters from the media. I promised not to write about our meeting then. But it was interesting to see the anger still boiling in his soul.
He believed Dantley slowed the offense and caused the four other players to stand around while Dantley went through his routine of posting up his man and trying to set up a slow drive to the hoop.
A few weeks later Dantley was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre. Everybody assumed point guard Isiah Thomas orchestrated the trade. Maybe he did push for the trade, but Daly was pushing, as well.
Once Daly became so agitated with a call during a game that he slipped and fell to the floor at The Palace. His assistants came over to help him up, but he shook them off. He would help himself up.
People saw the replay nationwide and everybody got a good laugh. Here is what people don't know: Daly split his pants when he fell.
I could see it from press row. Daly was careful how he walked during the rest of the half and the rip was sewed at halftime.
Reporters had to make a decision: Follow Rodman or stick around and listen to Daly's news conference outside the dressing room?
Many of us chose to follow Rodman, who didn't have much to say as he drove off. We ran back to try to catch Daly. As soon as he saw us he cut off the news conference with the reporters who remained behind.
"Hey, I was here," he said as he walked off.
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