Jazz legend Layden honored by NBA coaches

TORONTO — After National Basketball Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle spent several minutes praising the winner of this year’s Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, former Utah Jazz coach and executive Frank Layden, he turned the microphone over to Layden to give his remarks.

“Rick, how many more years you got in this term as president?” Layden asked.

When Carlisle responded that he didn’t know, Layden shot back, “We got to work on your delivery a little bit,” drawing laughter from the assembled crowd for his news conference.

That was just one of many times Layden broke up the room over the next 20 minutes or so, as the 88-year-old gave a rollicking speech that touched on his life in the sport. That included his growing up in Brooklyn, New York, playing in college at nearby Niagara University and then coaching both in high school, back collegiately at Niagara and then for several years with the Jazz before moving into the front office.

Layden, who had his entire family — including his son, Scott, a longtime executive currently working for the Minnesota Timberwolves — in attendance, was clearly enjoying the moment, and a man well known during his career for making jokes at both his expense and others both got off plenty of one-liners and expressed appreciation for getting the chance to do so.

“There’s a lot of things I could talk about, about this particular award,” Layden said. “At my age I’m at the stage of my life where people call up and say, ‘I’m looking for Frank Layden. Is he still alive?’ You know I understand that. So this is probably the last award I’ll ever receive. But you know it’s also the most important one because, first of all, my family could be here and could help to share it with me.

“The people you named that had won this award previously,” Layden said, “[are] certainly an All-Star type group. Academy Award winners. I don’t really believe that I should be amongst that group, but nevertheless, here I am and I’m going to take it home with me, no matter what, all right?”

He also talked about his longtime friendship with Daly, with whom he went back to their mutual time in Western New York in the 1950s.

“Chuck and I, as I say, went way back,” Layden said. “I don’t know if people realize it, but Chuck actually when he started college went to our arch rival of Niagara’s was St. Bonaventure … I didn’t know him exactly at that time, but it was a conversation piece, and we got to know each other through the years. I remember, I first really spent some time with him when him and Hubie Brown were assistant coaches at Duke and saw him later on when he was an assistant at Penn and Niagara played in the NCAA’s and what have you.

“But through the years we always — there was a time when after the games the coaches used to go out and have a few beers. We weren’t enemies, you know — oh, did I say that? I didn’t mean to say that. We went out and had a few sodas together, all right. But, yeah, it wasn’t all out war, you know, it was not only competitive but it was a lot of fun.”

Outside of a period of thanking each of his family members, though — including his wife, Barbara, with whom he celebrated his 62nd wedding anniversary Saturday — Layden spent most of his time on stage doing what he did so often during his NBA career — cracking jokes at the referees’ expense.

“So I would like to say if I could change anything in my life, it would be by the way I treated referees,” Layden said. “All right, I think I was very, very hard on the referees. You know, I remember Earl Strom one night, when we were getting killed by the Lakers, you know, and I said to Scottie, and of course at that time Phil Johnson was my assistant coach along with Scott, and I said, ‘Listen, you guys take over this game. Try to pull it out. I said, ‘I’m going across the street and get us a table for dinner. I’m going to get drunk.’

“So I started on Strom, and just got after him something awful. And he gave me, remember he used to do this, [indicating], he was blowing the whistle and screaming and everything, and he is storming over at me, storming over, and he finally gets there.

“He says, ‘I know what you’re trying to do.'” He said, ‘But if I got to stay here and watch this (expletive), so do you. Sit down and shut up.'”

Layden was also honored at center court early in the second quarter at center court, getting a nice ovation from the crowd, and after his news conference Raptors coach Nick Nurse joined him on stage to congratulate him as well.

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