Honoring Lewis, talking Lakers
CHARLESTON -- Wednesday night was supposed to be about Lewis D'Antoni.
But even as the 98-year-old lifelong teacher and coach was being honored at the Marriott Town Center by the nonprofit Education Alliance of Charleston, he couldn't help but talk a little bit about his son Mike, who left earlier in the day for California to take his place as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It wasn't supposed to be like that. The advance invitations that went out with a short bio of Lewis D'Antoni listed son Mike as a Marshall University grad and ex-coach of the New York Knicks.
Both are still true, though the latter statement has been trumped by recent events.
"Really, when his name came up with Phil Jackson I didn't think he would get (the job)," Lewis D'Antoni said. "You know, Phil's won so many championships out there. But I think they wanted a kid like Mike, and Mike was ready to go if it was offered to him. I think it's outstanding."
Mike D'Antoni's brother Mark was equal parts stunned and proud.
"It's great. It's a great opportunity and we're very excited," Mark D'Antoni said. "We were all somewhat surprised. We had all kind of figured once Phil Jackson decided he wanted the job, he would be the natural choice. But we'll certainly take it. It's great news. He's looking forward to it."
And in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard rule the hardwood, nothing short of a championship ring is expected.
"That's what you do it for," Mark D'Antoni said. "He's got some players out there and he just has to get them playing together."
But back to the man of the night. The man who molded Mike D'Antoni.
Lewis D'Antoni, who will turn 99 in December, was a West Virginia teacher and basketball coach at Pineville High School (1927-41) and Mullens High School (1942-59) along with a Tri-State stint at Chesapeake High School from 1971 to 1982.
The Mullens Rebels won a state basketball championship in 1955.
In addition to Mike and Mark, Lewis D'Antoni and the late Betty Jo D'Antoni, had another son, former Marshall hoops great Dan D'Antoni, and a daughter Kathy, West Virginia assistant state superintendent of schools.
The alliance wanted to honor D'Antoni because of his lifetime of mentoring and dedication to education.
"It's unbelievable," Lewis D'Antoni said. "When I heard they wanted to do this I was just on cloud nine."
Mark D'Antoni said his father's lasting impact is in the generations of children he helped throughout his career.
"It's a well-deserved honor, I couldn't be more proud of him," he said. "The legacy is the number of lives he's affected, the kids he's helped get scholarships. Those kids that came up through the Little League fields and Babe Ruth fields and the Mullens playgrounds, dad helped get a lot of those leagues started and those playgrounds built."
Among the attendees Wednesday was Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who said Lewis D'Antoni was a complete example of a community leader.
"The whole D'Antoni family has contributed so much to the education process in our state, and they're just a great family that has been an inspiration to many young individuals," Tomblin said. "Lewis and his (late) wife really believed in making the children produce and making them responsible and do good things and give back to the community, and they've all grown up to be very successful, so my hat's off to the D'Antoni family."