BY DAVID RUSSELL
Although Brendan Malone isn’t a household name, fans of the NBA have probably seen him if they’ve watched basketball over the last 30 years. Malone, who grew up in Astoria, was an assistant coach for the 1989 and 1990 Detroit Pistons championship teams. He was also an assistant on the 1999 New York Knicks and 2009 Orlando Magic teams that made the Finals.
It’s been almost 50 years since St. John’s Coach Lou Carnesecca gave a clinic at Most Precious Blood Parish, where Malone was coaching. Carnesecca advised Malone that “there are no shortcuts in coaching.” Malone took that to heart and became somewhat of a basketball nomad. He made a name for himself by coaching two championship teams at Power Memorial High School when basketball was still really the city’s game.
“I had a lot of good, tough, city kids who competed,” said Malone, now in his second stint as Pistons assistant, before Sunday’s 87-83 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. “They did what I asked of them. I tried to concentrate on fundamentals, teamwork, and conditioning. We were talented, we worked hard and we won championships.”
He assisted at Fordham and Syracuse, and was head coach in Rhode Island before making it to the NBA in 1986 as an assistant with the Knicks.
Malone was able to stand out over the thousands of people that coach amateur basketball. “The biggest thing was I survived,” Malone said. “I just survived. The biggest chance I took was leaving Power and getting out of that and going to college. Because of my reputation, when I was let go from places, people have picked me up.”
As an assistant to Chuck Daly, Malone was credited with creating the “Jordan Rules”, the Pistons plan on stopping Michael Jordan. Detroit beat Jordan’s Bulls on the way to the 1989 and 1990 titles. Malone later became the first head coach of the Raptors but was fired after one season. Since then he’s served two more times as Knicks assistant, and has been on staffs in Indiana, Cleveland, Orlando and now Detroit again.
Michael Malone, one of Brendan’s six children, was undeterred by the strenuous lifestyle and is currently the head coach of the Denver Nuggets. Malone has been on the move for much of his life with his wife Maureen. “It’s very tough,” Malone said. “I’m very fortunate to have a wife who understood what I wanted to do and supported me in my quest to be a coach. Michael has the same kind of wife. He was thinking about becoming a secret service agent. They told him he needed a prerequisite of police work so he passed a physical and mental test and was two weeks away from becoming a Michigan State policeman before he got a coaching offer.”
Malone has been able to deal with the ups and downs of coaching, even in exhibition games like the 2003 All-Star Game in which Malone served as an assistant for the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we had the game won. Michael Jordan, in his last All-Star Game, hit a baseline jumper with a few seconds left. Then Kobe Bryant was fouled by Jermaine O’Neal while shooting a three. Kobe made two free throws to send it to double overtime where we lost. To the players it doesn’t mean much, to the coaches it means a lot. The winners get $20,000, losers get $10,000. So in 10 seconds I lost $10,000,” said Malone.