LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Del Harris was a small-college player and once those days were over his life’s goal was to be a successful small-college coach.
He did quite a bit more than that.
Harris was revealed Friday as this year’s winner of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, as presented by the National Basketball Coaches Association. Harris coached in the NBA for 32 seasons, 14 of them as a head coach with Houston, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Prior recipients are Frank Layden (2019), Doug Moe (2018), Al Attles and Hubie Brown (2017), K.C. Jones and Jerry Sloan (2016), Dick Motta (2015), Bernie Bickerstaff (2014), Bill Fitch (2013), Pat Riley (2012), Lenny Wilkens (2011), Tex Winter and Jack Ramsay (2010) and Tommy Heinsohn (2009).
“This one has a special meaning simply because, I was noting the tremendous names that have gotten this award before and knowing there are many others out there who have given their professional lives to the sport,” the 83-year-old Harris said. “Coaching basketball is a special thing. It’s a ministry, a service, depending on how you look at it. When you do it, you’re fitting into the lives of the players in a very special way and a special relationship can be developed.”
Harris has spent parts of seven decades in the game as a coach or player. He also coached more than 400 international games, with experience coaching the national teams from Puerto Rico, China, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S.
Over the years, Harris watched eight of his assistant coaches eventually become head coaches and two others become NBA general managers. He worked with seven centers who went to the Naismith Hall of Fame, including Yao Ming, Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. He also coached Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson, which he said is part of the way he’s typically introduced before he appears at clinics.
“I get introduced as Kobe’s first coach, Magic’s last coach and in the movie Space Jam,” Harris said. “That’s all they care about.”