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Sleight of Hand : Next Trick for Bob Weiss, New Clipper Coach and Amateur Magician, Will Be to Make Fans Forget He Wasn't Team's First Choice

August 20, 1993|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And his father, Vic, 78, played in the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system on a team with Carl Furillo and Gene Hermanski before going into the Army in 1942.

He became a high school teacher and coach in Athens, Pa., after he was discharged from the Army, mostly because he could make more money teaching than he could playing baseball. And he had a wife and son to support.

"Bob started very, very young," said Weiss' mother, Gertrude. "I put up a basket in the kitchen when he was 3, and that was always his favorite toy. He loved to shoot and dribble."

Weiss' parents realized early that basketball was his best sport.

"His dad coached the high school football team, but he wouldn't let him play football because he felt his future was in basketball," Gertrude said. "But he was also a good baseball player. He pitched a no-hitter in high school."

Vic Weiss also recalled Bob's basketball prowess.

"I didn't want him to play football, even though I was the head football coach, because I knew that his entering college would be based on basketball," he said. "He was that good when he was a kid."

It proved to be a wise decision. Penn State gave Weiss a basketball scholarship in 1961.

Selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the third round of the 1965 draft, Weiss struggled in his first two seasons, shuttling between the 76ers and the Wilmington, Del., Blue Bombers of the old Eastern Basketball League, forerunner of the Continental Basketball Assn.

"In those days, it was really tough to make it because there were only 10 teams and there was no European ball," Weiss said. "I was struggling (in the Eastern League) and was going to get cut. I had lost all my confidence, so I went to my coach (former Philadelphia Warrior star Neil Johnston) in Wilmington and he actually saved my career.

"I asked him why I wasn't playing and he told me that when a guard goes into a game, something has to happen. It was like flicking on a light switch. I said, 'OK, I'm going to make something happen.'

"So I started playing with reckless abandon, and I ended up starting on that team and we won the Eastern League championship."

Cut by the 76ers the next season, he was re-signed by the team after Larry Costello broke his leg in 1967 and was a reserve on the 76ers' NBA championship team.

Weiss went to Seattle in the 1967 expansion draft and was selected by Milwaukee in the 1968 expansion draft. The Bucks traded him to Chicago later that season.

Weiss spent six years with the Bulls before he was traded to the Buffalo Braves--the team that later became the Clippers--in 1974. After spending two seasons with the Braves, he signed with the Washington Bullets as a free agent in 1976.

After retiring in 1977, Weiss spent a year working for his former agent before he got back into the NBA, joining the San Diego Clippers as an assistant to Gene Shue.

"I never thought too much about being an assistant coach because there weren't many assistants in the NBA at the time," Weiss said. "But I was like a fish out of water in the business world."

After spending two seasons in San Diego, Weiss was hired by Dick Motta as the Dallas Mavericks' only assistant coach in 1980.

After six seasons in Dallas, Weiss was hired as the head coach of the Spurs.

Noted for his low-key coaching demeanor, Weiss says he got his style from his father, who spent 25 years coaching prep sports.

"I was never flamboyant or hotheaded, and I hope that some of that rubbed off on Bob," Vic Weiss said.

"Did I teach him all he knows? Yes, I taught him all he knows, but that wasn't near enough."

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