Capping a season in which he was given much of the credit for the turnaround of the Lakers, Del Harris was voted NBA coach of the year Wednesday, easily beating Cleveland's Mike Fratello in nationwide media balloting.
Harris, joining Bill Sharman and Pat Riley as Lakers to win the award, received 62 of a possible 105 votes from sportswriters and broadcasters. Fratello, who overcame injuries to key players to exceed expectations, was second with 15 votes, followed by San Antonio's Bob Hill (12), Utah's Jerry Sloan (11) and Dallas' Dick Motta (five).
"The truth is, I'm so focused in on what we're doing right now, I can't even do justice to this thing," Harris said after practice at the Forum as the Lakers prepared to face the Seattle SuperSonics tonight in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. "It is truly an honor because of the top quality of coaches that are in this league, but I'm so focused in on playing against Seattle that it's hard to appreciate the moment. I hope you can appreciate that. I don't want to appear ungrateful or not excited about it. But it's just a matter of priorities.
"When I'm sitting back with my grandkids or something, it'll mean more to me probably than it does at this moment, simply because of what we have at hand."
Said Executive Vice President Jerry West, a friend for about 20 years: "I've known this gentleman for a long time and I've seen the highs and lows of his life. And obviously, this is a high period for him to be recognized for a truly incredible job that he's done here."
The Lakers were 48-34 in Harris' first season, a 15-game improvement that trailed only the 23-game reversal by the Mavericks and occurred even though leading scorer Cedric Ceballos was sidelined for 24 games because of injuries, Eddie Jones for 18 and Sedale Threatt for 23.
Not bad for a hire that surprised almost everyone.
So why did it work?
"He has a very good relationship with players," center Vlade Divac said. "He understands us even though there is a big difference in age. He has a good feeling for how every single individual on the team feels. He gives us a lot of freedom."
Harris, 57, said he will give them a party for the award. But first, the SuperSonics.
"As I told Jerry West," Harris said after accepting the Red Auerbach Trophy, "I'd trade it right now for coach of the week."
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Results in the NBA coach - of - the - year balloting, as conducted by writers and broadcasters: Coach, Team: Votes
1. Del Harris, Lakers 62
2. Mike Fratello, Cleveland 15
3. Bob Hill, San Antonio 12
4. Jerry Sloan, Utah 11
5. Dick Motta, Dallas 5