LOS ANGELES — Phil Jackson wasn’t the only one who got a late-night call last month. It was early compared with the one Dan D’Antoni received.
Mike D’Antoni’s brother was sleeping peacefully in Charlotte, N.C., when the phone rang at 3:30 a.m. It was his son, Nick. He had some bewildering news.
“Dad, you’re going to L.A.,” he said.
Dan D’Antoni didn’t believe it.
“Mike had told me his name was being bantered about, but he said, ‘We’re not going to get it. Phil [Jackson] is going to get it,’ ” Dan D’Antoni said.
“I told my son he was out of his mind. He said, ‘No, it’s all over the news.’ I got up, went in there to the TV and there it was. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I called my son the next day and said, ‘You could have waited until 7. I’m dead tired now.’ ”
Joining the Lakers’ staff was the latest turn in an unorthodox career for Dan D’Antoni.
He left behind 28 years of coaching at Socastee High – where Nick was his third of three sons to star – to be on his brother’s staff with the Phoenix Suns in 2004. He was barely part of it. He was the fourth of four assistants. He sat behind the bench for games.
But he watched, learned and studied the intricacies of his brother’s offense. Now he’s Mike D’Antoni’s most important sounding board on the court.
He’s also a caretaker while Mike D’Antoni recovers from knee-replacement surgery he had Oct. 31. They live together in a rented Manhattan Beach home.
“You’ve seen the series ‘Two and a Half Men’? We’re ‘Two Half Men,’ ” Dan D’Antoni quipped. “I’ve got to drive everywhere, I’ve got to carry his bag, I’ve got to open the daggone door. Even the coaching part, I’ve had to be a little more of a voice than I would have been if he had his vitality. It’s still hard on him until he gets his strength back, which will probably happen in a month or so.”
Add door-opener to the list of things the older D’Antoni, 65, has done in his life.
He has owned a bumper-boat pool (think bumper cars on water), run two restaurants and even saw John F. Kennedy speak on the campaign trail in 1960 in tiny Mullens, W.Va.
“It wasn’t a big audience. It was in a parking lot in downtown Mullens on the back of a flatbed truck,” he said.
Dan D’Antoni started his coaching career as an assistant at Marshall University. He was working there when a plane crashed in 1970, killing 75 people, including almost the entire Marshall football team.
D’Antoni left abruptly.
“I couldn’t stay. I just walked in and said, ‘I’m out,’ ” he said. “I was real close to that. It was a tragedy that I didn’t handle well.”
So he headed to Myrtle Beach and started coaching high school. More than four decades later, he’s still in basketball, albeit at a singular level.
“Obviously, you adjust for the speed and athleticism, but spacing, quick decisions and taking good shots are all the same, whether you’re coaching grade school or the pros,” he said.