As our Daniel LoGuidice reported recently, Lionel Hollins and Paul Westphal, the Nets head coach and lead assistant, have a relationship that stretches back decades. Now Tim Bontemps sits down with the two 60-year-old NBA "lifers" to talk about how their friendship developed ... and how it led to Hollins selecting Westphal as his top guy on the bench, even though Westphal had no interest in coaching again.
Their relationship started, Bontemps writes, when Westphal, now 63, was the NBA's top shooting guard, and Hollins, fast approaching 61, was a top NBA defender.
"I held him and grabbed him and beat him up," Hollins told the Post. "He was a great scorer, had great footwork and made scoring look easy, but I had a lot of athleticism and competitiveness and toughness, and so I battled from that perspective."
Westphal said nice things of Hollins, too.
"He was such a great competitor," Westphal said. "He liked taking on the challenge of playing defense, and he liked to get under your skin, but he didn’t do it in a way that was disrespectful to the game or the opponent."
Eventually, their mutual respect led to a place on the Suns bench for Hollins as the Phoenix squad, led by Charles Barkley, won an average of 59 games the first three years they worked together ... and went to the NBA Finals, only to lose to Michael Jordan's Bulls.
"It was his character," Westphal said in explaining why he had recommended Hollins. "I knew who he was as a man, and I knew the respect he had for the game."
Then, this summer after being hired in the wake of a failed Jason Kidd power play, Hollins approached Westphal, who had coached the Sonics and Kings as well as the Suns.
"I wouldn’t have [been an assistant] in any situation," Westphal told Bontemps. "I wasn’t desperate to go find a situation, but I definitely wouldn’t have said no to Lionel.
"I love the game, and I love being part of it. This is a perfect spot for me, and a perfect time."
Two basketball lifers and their friendship: The Hollins and Westphal story - Tim Bontemps - New York Post