Auburn Hills — For Stan Van Gundy the most enjoyable moments of the season are a 15-minute drive from The Palace of Auburn Hills to Rudy's Market in Clarkston where he can select a carry out dinner of Italian, barbeque, salads or sandwiches.
His joy does not come from winning basketball games, although they are coming more frequently. He drenches himself in games and emerges on the other side a nervous wreck. Yes, he is enjoying watching his team during this recent surge. But he is like many coaches. He fears that the end is coming at any moment.
For instance the Pistons lost a Martin Luther King Day matinee to the Atlanta Hawks. It was just their third loss in the last in their last 14 games. But Van Gundy admits, "you don't know when the next one (win) is coming."
And please do not mention playoffs. The Pistons are just 1½ games out of the final playoff spot. That does not matter to Van Gundy who vows to really focus on the playoff chase sometimes after next month's All-Star break.
"Look I have 59 wins three times and I never enjoy it," Van Gundy said with a laugh. "It is just me because you are always looking at the next game as a coach in absolute fear of what can happen if you are not right on. If you are not prepared for this, we are going to have this happen. I am always looking at impending doom."
Van Gundy puts an emphasis on the word "doom." It is a refrain I heard frequently from the late Chuck Daly who took the Bad Boy Pistons to three NBA Finals, winning titles in 1989 and 1990. Chuck would have you convinced that a random road trip to Indiana spelled doom and gloom if the Pistons failed to win.
"Hey if we don't get this one it could be Katy bar the door," he said frequently.
He was the Prince of Pessimism even during streaks of 12 wins out of 14, even when the team was rumbling towards the best record in basketball. He coached the team to 63 wins in 1989 and was not satisfied until the champagne flowed following his first championship as a pro coach.
There are a lot of coaches like Van Gundy. Pat Riley was like that. You could cut the tension with a knife even when things were going well with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Van Gundy never lets you see him sweat. He is a tiger on the sideline but remains upbeat for the most part.
Don't joviality fool
He laughs and jokes with reporters and then retreats into his personal anguish trying to get that next win.
"I am happy as heck with them but you are still worried about what can go wrong," he said. "That attitude to a degree helps you. I think you are prepared for things that could swing in either direction."
We live in an age of instant gratification because of blogs and the Internet. One moment people love you and the next moment you are the bum of the month. Every professional athlete understands the ebb and flow of adulation and scorn.
"They have to stay in the moment and ignore all the talk and stuff," Van Gundy said. "Around Christmas time all the talk was how badly we suck and now we are talking about how great we are. Well we were not as bad as people were saying and not as good as everybody is making us out to be right now. The approach, honestly, is to stay within ourselves and look at film and understand there are areas we need to improve and ignore all the other stuff."