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THE NBA: 1994-95 PREVIEW : He's Del, Not Dull : Those Who Know His Background Insist New Laker Coach Del Harris Is Anything but Bland and Have Examples to Prove It

November 01, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Have you heard about the story where I dumped a drink on a guy at a game?" Del Harris says.

No.

"That was in Houston, the bad year," the new coach of the Lakers continues. "There was this one goofy fan who kept on me the whole year, and he was so loud and there wasn't a lot of noise there anyway because we were losing all our games so people weren't there.

"When we were exiting at the end of the game, it was my first chance to really get a good look at him. He had just been a big ol' voice from the balcony before. Now, the voice has got a face and he's all the way down on the court. Not only that, he's got a drink in his hand.

"Well, as fate should have it, as we were walking off the court after the final buzzer, I had an itch on the back of my neck. I reached up to scratch it. As one of my arms went up, I hit the cup and the drink flew all over him. As much as I tried to pass it off as an accident, I ended up making a public apology to the guy in the paper."

*

Have you heard about how he got nicknamed Dull Harris and all his friends and family laughed?

Try selling that one in Tennessee. That's where he went to school, at Milligan College, which is so small that his graduating class had about 55 people. They saw how focused Harris could be. One day, for instance, he was thinking about something so intently that he pulled up to the post office, left his '49 Ford running while he went inside, came back outside, then walked back to school.

Try Indiana. Delmer William Harris was born there 57 years ago and got his first big-time coaching job there, at Earlham College. The Earlham team, legend has it, was so bad before his arrival in the fall of 1965 that his predecessor, knowing it was the end of the line after going 2-19, didn't even bother to attend the awards dinner.

Harris didn't merely take Earlham, long a gimme on opponents' schedules, to a 14-8 record that first year and a Hoosier Collegiate Conference title by the third season, he was doing Bobby Knight before Bobby Knight.

That time he stepped on the court and took the charge on Michael Adams, his famous blooper-reel move years later with the Milwaukee Bucks? It was nothing to anyone who had seen Harris running down the middle of the floor during a game to have words with a referee.

"He can get upset with people, although you'd really have to push him past his limit," said Ron DeMao, who covered Harris' Earlham teams for the newspaper in Richmond, Ind., and became one of his closest friends. "He's a fearless guy. I know one time when we were in a near riot after one game. . . . Del turns to me and says, 'Let's take our belts off and wrap them around our hands just in case.' We didn't have any problems, but we were ready. He's got a lot of guts."

Good thing Harris was a minister--he was ordained by the Christian Church in 1958--or he might really have gotten riled.

They won't go for that Dull thing in Texas, either. He spent four years there as coach of the Houston Rockets, upsetting the Lakers in the 1981 mini-series en route to a Western Conference title.

The next season, Tommy Henderson was taken out of the lineup because of a weight problem, although the guard denies he added pounds, and later was reinserted, after slimming down. Robert Falkoff of the Houston Post tried to play it down the middle and wrote that Henderson was playing again because he allegedly lost weight.

Harris called Falkoff over in the locker room.

"Allegedly?" the coach said pointedly. "That's a word used in criminal cases."

"Your team wins seven in a row and you get cocky?" Falkoff retorted before walking away.

Harris, a pitcher who played semi-pro baseball until he was 32, fired an orange slice at the back of Falkoff's head. Strike. And you already know about when he gave that fan a drink to go.

Wisconsin? That's kind of a mixed bag.

He spent four years as a scout and an assistant to Don Nelson in Milwaukee before becoming coach in 1987-88, and players say some of his practice and pregame speeches were l-o-o-o-n-g and drier than Salt Lake City during Prohibition.

But then there was that 1989 first-round playoff matchup against Atlanta, after the Hawks had won all six regular-season meetings and had the home-court advantage.

Harris predicted that the Bucks would come home with at least a split and then spent about $1,000 on tickets and gave them to charity because the locals weren't going to sell out Game 3 on their own.

The Hawks won the opener by eight points, before the Bucks responded with a 10-point victory in Game 2. The coach was right.

Then he bit off even more: If the fans would come to the Bradley Center and support their team, he said, the Bucks would win there too. For good measure, he told them to bring cowbells, in honor of living in the dairy state.

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