MIAMI – Ron Rothstein never had a problem challenging his head coach, whether it was Pat Riley or Chuck Daly or Mike Fratello or any of the other coaches he worked for during his 22 years as an assistant in the NBA.
In fact, Rothstein, who today received the Tex Winter Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association, believes the best head coaches want lieutenants who will say ‘no,’ every now and then.
“You have to make your head coach comfortable with the fact that he knows you’re there to do whatever it takes that helps him be successful on every level whether it’s knowledge, whether it’s telling him ‘no’ when he wants to hear, ‘yes’, whether it’s loyalty,” Rothstein said.
Rothstein has spent more than 50 years in the game, 26 on an NBA bench and all but four as an assistant. And although he got his start in Atlanta and had stops in Detroit, Cleveland and Indiana, Rothstein forever will be linked to the Heat.
Of his four years as a head coach, three were with the Heat, including the franchise’s first three seasons. He then spent nine seasons on Miami’s bench working for Stan Van Gundy, Riley and Erik Spoelstra. In between, Rothstein was the head coach of the Miami Sol of the WNBA for three seasons.
Rothstein, 74, remains a part of the Heat as TV studio and radio analyst as well as a corporate liaison.
The Tex Winter award honors the achievements and commitment of Winter, who spent 19 seasons (1985-2003) as an assistant with the Bulls and Lakers. Winters was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 as a contributor.
NBCA president Rick Carlisle recognized Rothstein’s impact on the game. Rothstein worked under Carlisle in 2003-04 in Indiana.
“Ron Rothstein is most deserving of this prestigious recognition,” Carlisle said in a statement. “Over several decades, Ronnie has helped countless players and coaches become their very best while continually helping promote the NBA game.”
Rothstein, who was born in New York and captained the University of Rhode Island basketball team his senior season, went from coaching high school to being an assistant for Fratello’s Atlanta Hawks in 1983. He has worked for two Hall of Fame coaches (Riley and Daly) and two coaches who have won more than 1,000 games (Riley and Fratello).
And each of those coaches gave Rothstein the freedom to speak.
“I don’t think I ever had a problem disagreeing with the guy I worked with because I think he knew where I was coming from and that was all about we’re trying to win,” Rothstein said. “Just because I disagreed or I had a different way I thought we should do it didn’t make me a bad guy. That was probably one of my greatest strengths as an assistant coach.”
As for working for Riley, Rothstein said his strength is being well organized – something, he said, Spoelstra learned from Riley – and his “unique way of pushing buttons, thinking outside the box.”
Like having Shaquille O’Neal walk into the locker room with a wheel barrel full of 15 strong cards before the 2006 playoffs or circling June 20 on the calendar when the Heat trailed Dallas 0-2 in the 2006 Finals and telling his team that was the date they were going to win the title (which they did by winning four straight) or packing one suit and one tie for that trip to Dallas for Game 6 when the Heat led 3-2.
“There weren’t too many guys doing things like that,” Rothstein said.
Rothstein said his three years in Miami and one in Detroit as a head coach were eye opening. And it also prepared him even more when he returned to being an assistant. And his three years with the Sol were so rewarding that if the team had not folded he is not sure if he ever would have returned to the NBA.
“You never know what being a head coach is until you do it,” he said. “Once you do it you understand the 24/7 aspects of the job and the great pressures put on a head coach. That is a tremendous help in you being a really good assistant coach.”