Reporting from Phoenix -- He closed his eyes several times during the course of a two-hour lunch, a smile crossing Alvin Gentry's face, his mind racing back to his childhood in North Carolina.
Soon, the Phoenix Suns coach began to recite the core values his dad, G.H. Gentry, instilled in him as a kid.
"Treat others with respect, son. Work hard, son. Have character, son. Be accountable, son."
They are the guidelines that have shaped Gentry.
They have helped him reach this point in his life — being a leader of men, being the caretaker of a Suns team that will face the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Before Gentry, 55, arrived here, he had to labor at his craft, plying his trade as a basketball coach over 30 years, first in college, then with the Miami Heat, the Detroit Pistons and the Clippers.
At each stop, Gentry recalled how his dad worked at a bakery, was a school janitor and worked at a polyester factory, where he didn't miss a day of work for 11 consecutive years.
G.H., a deacon in the Baptist church for 67 years, died last summer at 89, but those values — the Christian upbringing, respecting others, having a great work ethic — have never been forgotten by Gentry.
"It was very simple with my dad: Treat people the way you want to be treated," Gentry said. "It's the same way in coaching. Some guys can handle yelling and screaming and some guys can't.
"One of the things I always laugh at is when you see a coach say, 'I treat all my players the same, from one to 12.' Well, I don't do that, because they are completely different personalities. I don't even treat my three kids the same way. You've just got to think about who you are dealing with and deal with them on an individual basis, I think."
Gentry's approach to life, and how he applied it to his profession, made it easy for Suns General Manager Steve Kerr to name him interim coach after Terry Porter was fired last season, and then to make Gentry the head coach this season.
"Coaching is all about human relations," Kerr said. "I could find 1,000 people that can draw up a pick-and-roll or a zone defense. But how do you manage players? How do you relate to them?
"His sense of humor is a big part of it. He's fun to be around. He doesn't get too high or too low. But he can be tough too. I've heard him unleash a tirade on guys that would make a sailor blush. So you've got to have that balance. If the players trust you, they'll let you coach them. They trust him."
The players Gentry coaches include All-Stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire and respected veteran Grant Hill.
When Gentry coached the Clippers, he had a young team with Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Keyon Dooling.
Over two-plus seasons, Gentry produced an 89-133 record. He was fired during the 2002-03 season after a 19-39 start.
"I had a great time coaching the Clippers," Gentry said. "It's just unfortunate it didn't work out. But I don't have a whole lot of negative things to say about what went on when I was there because it was 2½ really good years. When you start to lose, obviously the coach is going to be the one that's fired."
When he took over the Suns on Feb. 16, 2009, Gentry began to change the culture of the team.
He went back to an offense best suited to his players.
It wasn't quite the breakneck pace of launching shots in "seven seconds or less" under former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. But Gentry's Suns did lead the NBA during in the 2009-10 regular season in scoring (110.2), field-goal shooting (49.2%) and three-point shooting (41.2%).
Gentry also changed his players' mind-set this season, making them concentrate more on defense. The Suns gave up 105.3 points a game, fifth-most in the NBA, but they held opponents to 45.2% shooting, 11th-best in the league.
"The question I asked them right in training camp is, 'Do you want to be coached and do you want to be held accountable? If you do, then I'll do that. That's what my job is. But then don't get upset at me if you're not doing what you're supposed to do and I jump you, because I am going to jump you.' I think it worked great for our team," Gentry said.
What Gentry has done with the Suns has surprised many. They finished third in the West this season at 54-28. They beat Portland in six games in the first round and swept San Antonio, 4-0, in the semifinals.
Now Gentry and his Suns get the defending NBA champion Lakers, starting Monday with Game 1 at Staples Center.
"We don't have any fear," Gentry said. "Someone said, 'Boy, you guys are playing with house money and you guys have done so great that whatever happens from here is OK.' That's not our attitude. Our attitude is that, 'Boy, we're on the brink of being able to play for an NBA championship.' And the only way we're going to be able to do that is try to find a way to beat the Lakers. That's our goal."
Buy Lakers playoff tickets here
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.