Mike D’Antoni was one of Europe’s most celebrated stars
Before becoming a successful coach in the NBA, Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni was one of Europe’s most celebrated stars.
Today’s style of game in the NBA has proved to be more fun for the fans. The pace-and-space, small-ball offense that propelled the Golden State Warriors to three championships in four years, has absolutely taken over the league.
Fans of this offensive system has one important person to thank for: Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. Before the small-ball lineup became a staple in the league, he was one of the first coaches to introduce that ‘unconventional’ system in his coaching stint with the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns.
But it is not a widely-known fact in the league that D’Antoni was once an excellent point guard for Olimpia Milan in Europe back in his playing days. Early in his career, he had forgettable stints with the St. Louis Spirits of the defunct ABA and the Kansas City Royals and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. In those four years, D’Antoni just averaged 3.4 points and 2 assists.
With no jobs in place for him in America, he went on looking for a team to play for in Europe. In the year of 1978, D’Antoni signed with Olimpia Milano in Italy. Since then, he became one of Italy’s most popular sports icons. Jerry Brown of the East Valley Tribune gave his take on how D’Antoni became a sensation:
“He became the all-time leading scorer for Olimpia Milano. He was voted the best point guard in Italian League history in 1990, after leading “the red-and-white” (Milano’s colors) to five league championships. He became an Italian citizen and played for the national team at the 1989 World Cup.”
D’Antoni’s was then known for his excellent playmaking and shooting. But fans of today would be surprised if they knew what D’Antoni’s trump card was: his defensive prowess.
“Italian fans fell in love with D’Antoni’s fiery personality on the court and his never-say-die work ethic. They serenaded him during games, dubbing him Arsenio Lupin — “The Gentleman Thief,” a character from a Sherlock Holmes novel — because of his quick hands.”
Mike D’Antoni would become a great defensive point guard in his career. Rockets fans hope that the European basketball’s Arsenio Lupin could instill his defensive prowess more to his players as the Rockets aim to deliver another championship for the city.
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