Rick Adelman was hoping his master's degree in history would pay off somehow.
Adelman, suddenly unemployed in 1975, had returned to Loyola Marymount University, his alma mater, to make himself more viable in the job market. His seven-year NBA career ended when Kansas City Kings coach Phil Johnson cut him before the 1975-76 season, and Adelman wasn't interested in trying out with other teams.
The reality Adelman faced after the NBA was that he didn't qualify for most amateur-level coaching jobs, even high school positions, without a master's.
"All I was back then was a basketball player," he said.
After playing three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, he knew a little something about Chemeketa Community College, a two-year school in nearby Salem, Ore. The master's Adelman earned there helped him become the school's basketball coach in 1977 and sparked a life-changing friendship with Trail Blazers coach Jack Ramsay.
Six years later, Adelman was on Ramsay's coaching staff in Portland. By 1989, he was the Trail Blazers' head coach. And here he is now one win shy of his 1,000th career victory as an NBA head coach. His Timberwolves (28-46) can provide that with a win Friday night, April 5, over the Toronto Raptors at Target Center.
"I'm not here without him," Adelman said of Ramsay. "To be an assistant coach under Jack Ramsay is as good as it gets."
Adelman, 66, reminisced this week about Ramsay, his mentor, as he closes in on an exclusive coaching club; only seven NBA coaches have 1,000 wins.
"It couldn't happen to a better guy," said Ramsay, now an NBA analyst for ESPN Radio. "He has a unique style of coaching. He's been able to get his players to play the game he wants without any problems with the players. The players seem to buy into his system, and that's helped him get to where he is today."
Adelman is 999-702 (.587 winning percentage) coaching five teams in the NBA. His push for 1,000 wins has raised interest in the Wolves, who will miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
At the start of the season, Adelman thought he would have passed 1,000 wins long before now. He needed only 29 to reach the mark. In his first full season with Portland, in 1989-90, Adelman had 27 wins by Dec. 29. Things have not gone as smoothly in Minnesota, where he is 54-86 with eight games left in his second season with the team.
"No doubt, if we had been healthy, I thought we would be getting there," Adelman said. "It makes you realize things in life are not always fair. Despite the injuries, these guys have busted their tails all year long to get us here."
Adelman knows he wouldn't be here, among the most successful coaches in NBA history, if not for the respect he earned from Ramsay as a young junior college coach.
Adelman coached Chemeketa to a 141-39 record and three conference championships in six seasons. Ramsay remembered Adelman as a player and began to notice him as a coach. It didn't hurt that Adelman stopped by Ramsay's office occasionally after Trail Blazers games to chat.
When Jim Lynam left the Trail Blazers' coaching staff after the 1982-83 season to take the San Diego Clippers job, Ramsay needed an assistant. Ramsay also considered George Karl, a successful CBA coach at the time.
"George had very good credentials, but I just thought I would work better with Rick," Ramsay said. "I had a great relationship with Rick, and I thought my personality would work better with Rick. I've always been happy with that decision."
Even now, Adelman says he is surprised Ramsay picked him over Karl.
"When I heard it was George, I didn't think it was going to happen for me," Adelman said. "Jack took a chance. That was the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
Karl, by the way, beat Adelman to the NBA's 1,000-win club. He ranks sixth with 1,125 victories.
Adelman's journey to 1,000 started five years after he joined Ramsay's staff, when Mike Schuler, who replaced Ramsay as Portland's coach in 1986, was fired 47 games into the 1988-89 season. Adelman, who remained an assistant after Ramsay left, finished the final 35 games as head coach.
It was not a smooth transition. The Trail Blazers lost their first four games under Adelman before finally winning 124-102 in Miami on Feb. 26, 1989. Adelman said he barely remembers win No. 1.
"I remember just trying to get us a win. That's all I was focused on," he said. "I remember Clyde Drexler breaking his nose in one of my first games. That didn't help us. The players were just trying to get me to relax."
Though Adelman was 14-21 after replacing Schuler, the Trail Blazers made the playoffs. They were swept in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers, but Terry Porter, the team's starting point guard and now a Timberwolves assistant, was among several players who persuaded owner Paul Allen to keep Adelman on the job.
"The players spoke up on my behalf, and I really appreciated that," Adelman said. "But I have to give a lot of credit to Paul Allen. He could have gone out and gotten another person, but he let me keep the job."
The rest, as they say, is history.