Los Angeles – The job, as much as it is anything else, requires a coach to stand next to LeBron James, a player who has been one of basketball’s most famous since he was in high school , and forging a partnership.
So, naturally, the Lakers went to hire Darvin Hamwho spent most of his one-year high school basketball career on the bench.
“I didn’t know him,” laughed former Saginaw High coach Marshall Thomas.
The fact that Ham struggled to make the Saginaw High team and still made it this far speaks to an essential part of his character – his relentlessness. Going from a 10th man as a high school senior to an NBA champion as a player with the Detroit Pistons to a title winner as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks can all be attributed to one reason.
“There is nothing we can do to make any claims for him. Darvin forged his own path,” Thomas said. “And he started his own way by not giving up.”
The news of Ham’s hiring – which has yet to be announced by the Lakers – has been endorsed by those who have crossed paths with Ham during his career: former coaches, teammates and colleagues praising the Lakers for having handed things over to a first-time coach.
“He’s going to be honest as a coach of the Lakers, which I think you need in the NBA today – someone who’s going to be honest but knows how to be honest without putting you down,” said the former teammate and super Pistons. Chauncey Billups, now a coach at Portland, said on Saturday. “What can you say? He won as a player. He won as a manager. I mean, this guy is more than qualified for the task at hand. I’m so happy and proud of him. I spoke last night and he was so excited.
Billups thinks the Lakers got it right.
“He is ready for this job. He’s the right guy for this Lakers job,” Billups said.
Back in Ham’s hometown, former high school teammate Julian Taylor could hardly believe what he was hearing.
Taylor, like so many people in Michigan, loved the Lakers because of Magic Johnson. While Taylor watched Ham go from high school afterthought to NBA player, the latest accomplishment was almost too hard to believe.
Saginaw has produced NBA players – a line that includes Draymond Green, Mark Macon and Jason Richardson.
The ham is different.
“Darv being their head coach, a guy who beat the odds, wasn’t picked to do it…he just worked,” Taylor said.
At Saginaw High, Ham didn’t even play basketball until his senior year, a growth spurt over the summer that launched his career. At the time, Thomas trusted his returning players to help build the squad roster, and nearly all of them said Ham should make the cut.
He wasn’t a star — he barely played — but Ham had a trait that made Thomas comfortable recommending him to a junior college coach.
“Darvin just kept getting better and better. He’s a real competitor, he’s always been a competitor,” Thomas said. “…The greatest thing about Darvin was never his ability. Darvin has always been a good person. Fearless, hardworking, but a great person.
Years later, Billups went through the same things with Ham as a teammate with the Pistons, one of Ham’s six NBA homes.
“I’m sure if you spoke to the guys he played with, he was probably their favorite type of teammate. He’s always been so competitive,” Billups said. “He brought the heat to training every day. Every time he came into the game, he just upped the game. He’s the man. Nobody would say anything bad about him.
“It’s that guy.”
Former NBA coach and current Indiana Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson was an assistant on those Pistons teams. He remembered Ham as someone who would never do “bulls-in-training” because he was too committed.
“His work ethic in practice and when we put him in the game, he always seemed to deliver,” Woodson said. “And it was based on his hard work. He spent time on the training ground and it was always a good carry in the game. So you knew the fact that he became a coach, I knew that would work out because that’s a big part of being a good coach. You must work.
Ham got his first chance to coach NBA players with the Lakers in 2011 as a development coach on Mike Brown’s staff after three seasons coaching in the development league. Metta Sandiford-Artest – then known as Metta World Peace – was on that Lakers team and remembers appointing Ham as a future coach.
“He worked hard, worked all the players, worked me,” Sandiford-Artest said. “He worked everyone. He was very involved and very direct; very, very direct, which I really loved.
“…He definitely understands modern basketball. He is also able to communicate in a way where you can receive him in the right way. He’s definitely a presence, but he also has a communication about him that’s, I won’t say sweet, but you understand he has your best interest at heart.
As Lakers coach, he’s going to be asked to communicate with some of the biggest stars in the NBA, including perhaps the biggest, James. Following Ham’s hiring announcement, James tweeted his support – a promising first step.
Anyone who knows Ham, from his time in the NBA or from his time at Saginaw, knows he’s equipped for a challenge. It’s who he is.
“In Saginaw, we are cut from a different cloth. We come from hard work, tenacity, that no-mess attitude. It’s Saginaw basketball,” Taylor said. “…Darvin was a hard worker. And once he grew up and became physically strong, Darv couldn’t be denied.