Kirkland basketball coach recounts his life in the game
By MEGAN MANAGAN
Kirkland Reporter writer
July 1, 2011 · Updated 10:47 AM
In a sport where players and coaches are known by a single name -- Kobe, LeBron, Coach K -- what do you do when no one knows your name? In a new book Kirkland native Rick Turner recounts what has been over 20 years of coaching and why no one knowing his name was the catalyst for his latest project. "If my name was Phil Jackson would you read this?" is Turner's book about his life in basketball.
Turner has worked for the Sonics, coached at Bellevue Community College and for teams in the Continental Basketball Association and American Basketball Association around the U.S.
"What happened was I was trying to get D-league jobs and I kept hearing sort of the same thing from people which was, we like you and we like your experience and we love your resume, we love your passion, but I can't hire you because no one's ever heard of you," said Turner. "I got an email from a previous owner of several D-league teams who is now a general manager in the NBA and his email was basically that I can't hire you because no one has ever heard of you. I think what he really said was you don't have a high enough profile. It was like one of those deals where it doesn't matter how good you are, which led to the name of the book."
Turner grew up in Kirkland, graduated from and played at Lake Washington High School and then headed to BCC to play basketball, where, as he said, he was a dumb 18-year-old who thought he knew more than he did. He never hit the court of the team, and transfered up to Western Washington University.
He ended up with the Sonics, as is explained in the book, through a series of lucky breaks and hard earned jobs. He ended up becoming the director of broadcasting for the team in the early 90's. At around the same time, he started working with the Mercer Island basketball program, as a volunteer coach and found a passion.
"I just got this desire to see what I could do with coaching," he said. "A situation popped up with the Sonics where I was sort of hitting my head on the ceiling as far as progressing with my career and I just thought, you know what? I'm going to go for it." He left the Sonics and headed back to BCC where he volunteered as a coach, then became the athletic director and then the head coach.
"I more or less hired myself at BCC had really good success," Turner exlained. "I then had an opportunity to coach in the CBA. When I left the Sonics I wouldn't say that I never had aspirations of coaching in the NBA, but it wasn't a realistic goal. But I thought the CBA was obtainable. At the time the CBA was the equivalent of the what D-league is now."
But the move wasn't meant to be. The team never made it to the season, and once again Turner was left trying to figure out what to do. He ended up at the University of Washington, the college he once dreamed he'd play for, volunteering for new head coach Lorenzo Romar. For a while after that Turner said he bounced around, coaching in the ABA and then again in the CBA.
"There's lots of former NBA players who were kind of done playing in the league," said Turner of his job in the ABA. "But there was kind of a miracle season in 2005 which is part of what I write about. We had all local players, we played something like 25 of our 35 games on the road and ended up making it to the championship game in Little Rock, Ark. against just a loaded team with like four former NBA players and here we were kind of like the Bad News Bears."
After that season ended and a variety of other coaching jobs failed to pan out the way he hoped, Turner said he felt like the D-league was where he was ready to go, but ran into the aforementioned catch-22. He knew what he was doing as a coach, but no one knew of him. At that point, Turner said, he sort of felt it was over, that he'd done his best and it was time to move on.
"I had sort of let of chasing it and once I did that my phone rang," said the coach. "It was Bob Weiss, who was the former head coach of the Sonics. He said he just got a job in China and do you want to come coach with me? So I went to China and I started sending home emails to my friends and family about the experience and just what was going on." It was those emails and encouragement from the people who read it that gave Turner the idea and push to put his experience on paper.
"It's had really good feedback so far, which I'm really happy about," he said of the book. "I sort of thought, it would appeal to my mom and my sister, but then the next step was maybe my friends will like it, but once I heard that people that don't know me and strangers have really enjoyed it I started getting confident and thought this might be ok."
Along the way of writing and finishing the book, which took just about two years, Turner found old friends in unexpected ways who helped him along. Needless to say, the book proved to be an opening to all sorts of long lost friendships and many new ones. Though the book chronicles his career to this point, Turner said he hasn't given up on the chance he may find another team to lead. Turner said he is open to the possibility of coaching, but it would have to be the right team, at the right time to make it happen.
Part of the proceeds of the book go to Jumpball, a basketball camp organization in Jamaica which Turner has helped coach and run for the last 15 years. He said the program, offered free of charge to kids in Jamaica, is supported totally through donations and sponsorships, so this was his way of giving back to the people there who have helped him. Turner's book is available at Parkplace Books in Kirkland, as well as online through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Personalized copies are available from Turner by e-mailing him at email@example.com.
Contact Kirkland Reporter writer Megan Managan at firstname.lastname@example.org.