At the NBA Finals, the Lakers are viewed as winners after landing coach Darvin Ham

Milwaukee Bucks acting coach Darvin Ham watches during the first half of the team's game against the Charlotte Hornets.
Milwaukee Bucks acting coach Darvin Ham watches during the first half of the team’s game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 8 in Charlotte, N.C.
(Matt Kelley / Associated Press)
Share via

More than a decade ago, the Lakers handed Mike Brown the keys to their organization and he made a decision that will help shape its future.

Looking for an ex-player to join his staff, Brown thought about the people he had worked with — players who were tough, who were smart, who were loyal and who would work.

It didn’t take long for him to think about Darvin Ham.


And when he found out Ham had just ended his playing career and was coaching minor league basketball in Albuquerque, N.M., he knew he had his guy.

“The cherry on the top,” Brown told The Times. “This dude, he must really like basketball.”

Brown first worked with Ham when both were essentially rookies, Ham was a first-year player and Brown was sort of a do-it-all staffer with the Nuggets. It was less than a full season before Ham was dealt, but the two men forged a bond that led to Brown adding Ham to his Lakers staff in 2011.

Ham agreed to be the next coach of the Lakers, and no one is under any illusions about the challenges he’ll face in Los Angeles. Coaching, according to almost everyone in the NBA, was hardly the Lakers’ biggest issue a year ago.

What makes Darvin Ham the right coach for the Lakers? Former teammates and players who worked with Darvin Ham explain why he’s ready for the job.

May 28, 2022

But Ham’s supporters, like Brown, think he’s the right fit for the moment.

“Don’t like the hire,” Brown deadpanned, saying that he expected Ham’s presence in L.A. to make it harder on him now that he’s the future head coach of the Kings.

Here at the NBA Finals, where Brown is finishing his tenure as an assistant on Steve Kerr’s staff, the people who know Ham best are universally praising the Lakers’ decision to hire him to be their next coach.


Draymond Green, who like Ham grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and starred at Saginaw High, said the Lakers are in for an infusion of grit that’s a universal characteristic among people from their hometown.

“I think he’s going to bring a toughness, a blue-collar mentality just because that’s how he’s built. That’s how he’s raised. You have to be that way from Saginaw,” Green told The Times. “I think it’ll be a different toughness that they haven’t seen. And he’s going to command and require a different respect level that they haven’t really have had. ... And I think that will bode well for that team.”

Green said Ham was a hero to him growing up, working his way from the back end of his high school bench into an NCAA tournament legend (for shattering a backboard), NBA player and NBA champion.

Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham gestures from the sideline.
Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham gestures from the sideline during the first half of the team’s game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 5 in Milwaukee.
(Aaron Gash / Associated Press)

“Growing up, could see that — ‘that’s Darv, in the NBA’ — and you want that,” Green said. “That’s your dream, too. And to see him come back and be able to touch him, to go to his camps. It was like, ‘Yo, I could possibly do that one day.’”

Brown said he sees similarities between Green and Ham, their toughness and willingness to do the work while also projecting intelligence and the ability to connect with people.


Brown saw it first-handed with the Lakers, where Ham quickly forged a bond with Andrew Bynum.

Boston’s Al Horford experienced that too, playing in Atlanta for Mike Budenholzer with Ham on staff.

“We really got after it,” Horford said of Ham. “He really challenged me to be better on the defensive end. Really challenged me to just be a better player in general.

“Darvin is about as good a guy as you’re going to see, a big competitor. Extreme competitor. The Lakers are really lucky to have a guy like him. He’s the kind of guy that you want.”

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.

May 27, 2022

As the Lakers try to plot their path back to the Finals stage, Ham’s biggest fans are firm believers he was the best fit for the organization.

They universally praise his work, approach and communication while almost always highlighting Ham’s toughness.


“Everyone is like, ‘He’s a rookie head coach, going in there to work for the Lakers with all those veterans,’ but don’t get it twisted,” Brown said. “I would like to see who would be the first to challenge Darvin or roll his eyes because he will stand his ground. And he will make sure his point gets across and gets across within an authority a situation like that may need.”