NBA: A Season Begins : According to Casey, the NBA Is Too Serious

Times Staff Writer

A 3-day visit to Philadelphia to open the National Basketball Assn. season brought back memories for Don Casey, the Clipper assistant coach who grew up in New Jersey and spent years heading high school and college programs in the Philadelphia area.

During his 9-year tenure as coach at Temple University, he frequently drove potential recruits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and showed them where Sylvester Stallone sprinted up the stairs in the early-morning workout scenes in "Rocky."

"We kind of inferred to them that they would be in the next movie if they came to play for us," Casey said, laughing.

Stories come easily for Casey, and he delights in telling them. He also doesn't believe that basketball has to be deadly serious.

"I think the game misses . . . the unique people," Casey said. "The game has gotten so businesslike that (the characters are) sorely missing. The closest one to fitting that role, I guess, is (Darryl) Dawkins. (Charles) Barkley could be like that.

"Coaches start to fall into the clone-ism, too. I still think we need guys like Doug Moe (of Denver) who are a throwback, to say things the way it is and play the way it is. Almost everyone is so TV conscious. Television has made everyone proper people.

"Heck, my goal one day is to beat the Lakers and go up and muss Pat Riley's hair," he said.

One of Casey's favorite characters is Reggie Theus, now with the Atlanta Hawks. Theus played with the Chicago Bulls when Casey was there as an assistant to Paul Westhead in 1982-83. "(Theus) had the greatest ability to do nothing while looking like he was doing everything," Casey said. "He'd wave his arms around and make all these herky-jerky sounds. Meanwhile, he's standing there not playing any D.

"I used to think Reggie was doing everything, but he was doing . . . He was incredible. Just standing around shouting and making false pickups (on defense). He was the greatest at that."

Casey has memories of a frustrated Bill Walton, too, as a Clipper.

"He was, and is, an absolute purist of the game," Casey said. "He was an intelligent basketball player, but (laughing) in the 4 years when he didn't play much, he still came out like a war hero who had been shot.

"Walton really relishes and cherishes the mechanics associated with basketball, and rightly so, because he was groomed by one of the greatest coaches ever, John Wooden, and then went to Portland to play for Jack Ramsay. But then all of the sudden, he's in San Diego with the Clippers.

"He couldn't make the adjustment, seriously," said Casey. "The other side came out. He was frustrated and over-critical.

"I think of him as a good friend, but everything had been so good for him before and he was used to playing with the best and now he was going through a groping time for a franchise. That was the purist in him coming out. He used to come up to me and say about someone on the team, 'Why is that guy in the NBA?' "

Casey's stories aren't all old ones, either. The Clippers went 17-65 last season, finishing with the worst record in the NBA for the second straight season.

"We had too many lawyers last year when we needed guys to be loosey-goosey," he said. "We had five player reps out there."

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