Darvin Ham: Five things to know about the new Lakers coach

Darvin Ham holds a basketball as the Milwaukee Bucks warm up before a playoff game.
Darvin Ham, the Lakers’ new head coach, has won a title as a player and as an assistant coach in the NBA.
(David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)

He took a championship away from the Lakers as a player. Now Darvin Ham will try to bring the storied franchise its 18th title.

The Lakers hired the 48-year-old former Milwaukee Bucks assistant Friday as its new head coach, sources told the Los Angeles Times, two months after firing Frank Vogel. Ham, who got the job over fellow finalists Terry Stotts and Kenny Atkinson, already has the endorsement of his biggest star.

“So damn EXCITED!!!!!!!!” LeBron James tweeted after Friday’s news. “Congrats and welcome Coach Dham!!”


Here are five things to know about the new Lakers coach:


Championship pedigree

Detroit Pistons forward Darvin Ham blocks a shot by Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal.
Detroit Pistons forward Darvin Ham, right, blocks a shot by Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal during the 2004 Eastern Conference finals.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Ham won his first NBA championship at the Lakers’ expense, helping the Detroit Pistons shock the heavily favored Lakers in 2004. He appeared in 54 regular-season games that season, averaging 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in nine minutes per game.

Detroit was the 6-foot-7 forward’s final stop as a player during his journeyman career. An undrafted player out of Texas Tech, Ham also played in Denver, Indiana, Washington, Milwaukee and Atlanta during his eight-year NBA career. Once he transitioned to the bench, Ham revisited two of those teams, serving as an assistant under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta (2013 to 2018) and Milwaukee. He was Budenholzer’s lead assistant as the Bucks rose to the top of the Eastern Conference and won the 2021 NBA championship.

Darvin Ham will be the Lakers’ next head coach, with no experience as a head coach. It sounds crazy, but that strategy in a crazy franchise might work.


Lakers history

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said the team was searching for a head coach with a “strong voice” to hold the team’s top players accountable. Ham is no stranger to big stars.


His first NBA coaching experience came with the Lakers, where he worked with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard as a player development coach from 2011 to 2012. The NBA jump came after three years in the G League, where he rose to the head coach spot for the New Mexico Thunderbirds for one season.


The next G League success story?

Ham is the latest coach to make journey from the G League to NBA. The trek has been successful for Nick Nurse, who is the first person to be named coach of the year in both the NBA and the G League, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder and Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins.

Ham also continues a recent trend of former NBA players being hired as head coaches. Last year’s coaching cycle saw seven former NBA players pick up head coaching positions, including four (Boston’s Ime Udoka, New Orleans’ Willie Green, Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley and Portland’s Chauncey Billups) who were first-time head coaches.

The Lakers have hired Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham to be their next coach. It will be Ham’s first head coaching job in the NBA.


Rookie head coach

Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham in the second half of an NBA basketball game.
Darvin Ham in January 2016 during his time as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Ham is the second first-time head coach the Lakers have hired in their last three coaching searches. The team hopes this one goes better than their first attempt that ended in 2019 with Luke Walton’s dismissal.


Although it’s the first time Ham will have full responsibility of a team, he’s not completely brand new to the head coach’s chair. He took over the top spot briefly this season when Budenholzer was in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Bucks went 1-3 under Ham’s acting head coach tenure.

“I think Coach Darvin did a great job stepping up, leading the team, coaching the team and keeping us accountable,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo told reporters after Budenholzer returned.


He’s been a ‘smashing’ success

Ham, who is from Saginaw, Mich., started his college career at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., and had a literal big break while at Texas Tech.

As a senior, Ham put an exclamation point on his college career with a backboard-breaking dunk in the 1996 NCAA tournament against North Carolina. The photo of him being showered with glass shards was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline “Smashing!” The moment highlighted Texas Tech’s run to the Sweet 16, the program’s first time advancing into the second week of the tournament.

Although no backboards were harmed during his NBA career, Ham still left a trail of dunks in the pros. He competed in the 1997 NBA slam dunk contest.