March 10, 1985: Dallas coach Dick Motta, the favorite son of Fish Haven, Idaho, becomes the fourth coach in NBA history to win 700 regular season games when his Mavericks defeat the New Jersey Nets 126-117. He joined NBA coaching greats Red Auerbach, Jack Ramsay and Gene Shue as members of that exclusive club. Motta finished his coaching career in 1997 with 935 career victories, currently 13th on the all-time list.
Motta cut his coaching teeth in eastern Idaho at Grace High School. He was a disciplinarian, and it started early. As chronicled in a classic 1971 Frank Deford feature in Sports Illustrated: “As 1957 dawned on the world of basketball, the high school team in Grace, Idaho came to practice with snow on the ground and Love Me Tender at the top of the charts. The new coach smelled liquor on the breath of one of his starters and called him over. ‘You’re off the team,’ he said. The kid said, ‘When do I get back?’ The coach said, ‘Well, the way I work it, you don’t get back.’
“‘O.K.,’ the kid said, ‘then what about…’ and he named all the other starters who had also broken training. One of them was the son of a local Mormon leader. ‘Then they’re off the team, too,’ the coach said. He was left with one senior, one junior and the rest sophomores.” The community was not happy, but Motta ended up winning a state AA championship with Grace in 1959 (that was Idaho’s second-biggest classification at the time, four years before the state’s schools were divided into A-1, A-2, A-3 and A-4).
When Grace wouldn’t give him a $1,000 raise after the season, Motta went to graduate school at Colorado State. Then he landed the top job at Weber State in 1962. Motta went 156-43 during the school’s first six years in the Big Sky despite being overshadowed by the state’s big three, BYU, Utah and USU. Interestingly enough, he was discovered by the Chicago Bulls when the team’s general manager, Dick Klein, visited Ogden in 1968 to scout players. Next thing you know, Motta was off to the NBA.
Motta coached five different NBA clubs over the next 29 years: the Bulls, Washington Bullets, Dallas Mavericks (twice), Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets. He was NBA Coach of the Year with Chicago in 1971 and won an NBA championship with the Bullets in 1978. After retiring, Motta and his wife ran a bed and breakfast at Bear Lake. He probably celebrated Bear Lake High’s win over previously undefeated Melba in the state 2A championship game last Saturday. Motta is still with us at the age of 91.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)