Stan Van Gundy working Magic toward first title |

Stan Van Gundy working Magic toward first title

Associated Press Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) ” Stan Van Gundy never wears the championship ring from Miami’s 2006 title. He coached the Heat for the first 21 games that season but can’t say for sure where he put the jewelry.

His best guess is it’s in storage somewhere collecting dust.

“It really does not mean anything,” the Orlando Magic coach said.

“I was not part of that,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t feel a part of that. I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment from that at all.”

Van Gundy walked away from the Heat after a slow start to the 2005-06 season and Pat Riley returned to the sideline to lead Miami to the title.

He arrived in Orlando in 2007 and now has a chance to win a ring that would mean something to him. The Magic begin the finals Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“He talks about winning a championship every day,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said. “So really, he deserves the credit for raising the bar, that just getting to the playoffs is not good enough.”

Van Gundy is four wins away from his own championship.

One that he will have earned despite being criticized, questioned and second-guessed perhaps more than any successful coach this season.

Van Gundy’s past (Shaquille O’Neal) and present (Dwight Howard) superstar centers have taken swipes at him. O’Neal called him the “master of panic,” and Howard publicly criticized his coaching strategy.

Van Gundy’s approach is unorthodox by NBA standards.

He doesn’t wear a tie with his jacket. His face is often unshaved and scruffy. He seems to live and die with each play. He’ll cover his face, pull his hair, stomp his foot and scream at players in that high-pitched tone ” which Howard loves to mock ” for even the smallest detail. Sometimes he’ll do it all on the same play.

“Me and Stan have had our ups and downs, but he is a great motivator,” Howard said. “Even when he’s yelling and screaming, throughout all that, he finds a way to put in just an ounce of something to get us fired up.”

Rafer Alston’s favorite Van Gundy moment this season came in April.

The Magic point guard, who also played a season under Van Gundy in Miami, had a late turnover against Cleveland and was ripped by Van Gundy on the sideline. The Magic were blowing out the Cavaliers.

“I said, ‘What could you possibly be yelling about? We’re up by 40,”‘ Alston said, adding that he loves Van Gundy’s passion.

But in the end, Van Gundy’s teams win.

He led Miami to the 2005 Eastern Conference finals and the Magic have won division titles in each of his first two seasons. He has Orlando in the NBA finals for only the second time in franchise history.

Since March 4, 2004, Van Gundy’s record is 198-90 in regular-season games, a winning percentage of .688. Only two NBA franchises (San Antonio, 307-124, .712) and Dallas (299-133, .692) have posted better winning percentages since that date.

Not bad for a cast off who was the Magic’s second choice to Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan.

“I think he’s probably at the top, if not the very best, x-and-o strategist in the game today,” said Riley, the Heat president who has five NBA titles as a head coach. “I coached for 25 years. My best days are way behind me. His best days are in front of him. He’s a pure coach.”

Van Gundy gets it done with one gear. The coach is rarely outworked.

There have been nights when Van Gundy has gone straight from the airport after a road trip to the Magic’s practice facility to watch film until the team meeting the next morning. He was so engulfed by work this season that he had to buy a new car after he went about 30,000 miles without changing the oil in the old one.

The NBA finals are only causing that stress to swell.

“At 3 in the morning, I can’t sleep because I’m worrying about how to stop Kobe Bryant,” Van Gundy said.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who worked with Van Gundy in Miami, has said he worries about Van Gundy’s constant intensity. Spoelstra said Van Gundy often wouldn’t eat on the team plane because he was too worked up after games, so Spoelstra would throw food at him.

“He’s always 100 percent real. He’s not coming from any other angle, other than what he’s actually feeling,” Spoelstra said.

For Van Gundy, a husband and father of four, the time to relax comes in the summer, when the lifelong baseball fan heads to Miami to attend Florida Marlins games.

Van Gundy is good friends with Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez and the rest of the organization and often spends time around the clubhouse before games. But even Van Gundy admits Gonzalez is “totally opposite” of him because he’s “totally under control.”

Van Gundy is so at peace with baseball he even jokingly lobbied for a summer gig as a bullpen coach on Florida’s staff.

“Fredi said that I don’t know anything about pitching,” Van Gundy said. “I said, ‘No. But I can answer a phone.’ I’ve offered to do dinner reservations, really, anything I could do.”

Van Gundy might not know much about pitching, but he is a confident basketball coach.

He didn’t flinch after O’Neal called him the “master of panic” in a wicked rant after Van Gundy said the Big Fella flopped during a game in Orlando in March. As it turned out, O’Neal was reduced to watching Game 3 of the conference finals as a fan in the second row in Orlando.

Van Gundy said he never felt he had to be vindicated.

“We’re way past that,” he said. “Did it bother me? Of course. I think anytime somebody says something negative about you, you know, does it bother you? Yea. How much it does is the point and everything else. That didn’t stick with me very long at all.”

Van Gundy has even more reason to look forward to the NBA finals.

His brother, Jeff, the former head coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, is part of the broadcast team on ABC. While that may be a conflict of interest ” Jeff has said he will try to be objective but will root for the Magic ” it does give the pair rare time together.

The two are best friends.

“It’s a little strange,” Van Gundy said. “I know it has got to be tough. I know it was always hard for me to watch his teams playing, because you can’t do anything about it.”

Now he can do more than just be a spectator.

No more watching on TV or in a luxury suite, scribbling notes to give to another coach, as he did for Riley during the Heat’s stretch run in 2006 while he was still on the payroll. This time, all eyes are on him.

And don’t expect him to change his ways.

“You’ve got to be yourself,” Van Gundy said. “If I try to be (Lakers coach) Phil Jackson, number one I couldn’t do it. And number two I think it would come off as very, very phony. That’s just not me.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this story.