CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former Lathrop High School graduate Mike Dunlap was a winner in his National Basketball Association coaching debut Friday night, so the agony is over for Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats.
Kemba Walker scored a career-high 30 points in Dunlap’s coaching debut and the Bobcats snapped a 23-game losing streak with a 90-89 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.
The Bobcats lost their final 23 games last season to finish 7-59, the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history prompting Jordan, the team’s owner, to proclaim the franchise had “hit rock bottom.”
“The most important thing was to kill the elephant and that elephant was that losing streak,” said Dunlap, who is the first NBA head coach from Alaska. “We had to get that off of everybody’s back. It’s just one of those marks you want to clean off the board.”
After graduating from Lathrop in 1976 and spending two seasons at San Fernando Valley College in Woodland Hills, Calif., Dunlap became the first Alaskan to play NCAA Division I college basketball in the modern era when he spent two seasons at Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles.
He coached 32 seasons of college and professional basketball before being hired by the Bobcats just a few days before the NBA Draft in June.
Before joining the Bobcats, Dunlap spent two seasons as an assistant at St. John’s University in New York, and last season, he was the Red Storm's acting head coach while Steve Lavin was recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Charlotte is the second stop in the NBA and third stint professionally for Dunlap.
He was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-08, and that job followed a nine-season career as the head coach of Metropolitan State University, an NCAA Division II program in Denver that he guided to national titles in 2000 and 2002.
Before he was at the helm at Metro State, he roamed the sidelines from 1994-97 as head coach of the Adelaide 36ers of Australia's National Basketball League. He also was a collegiate head coach for Division III California Lutheran (1989-94) and besides St. John's, he held Division I assistant positions at Loyola Marymount (1980-85), Iowa (1985-86), Southern California (1986-89), Arizona (2008-09) and Oregon (2009-10).
Now the Bobcats are looking to start a different kind of streak.
“It was something that was in the back of all of our heads,” Walker said. “We didn’t want that streak to keep on with us, so to get it over with now was extremely important. But now that it’s over we don’t ever want to get to that point again.”
The Bobcats, playing with a newfound aggressiveness on defense under Dunlap — they forced 19 turnovers — started the year strong against a Pacers team that won 19 of 33 road games last season.
“They look like a different team out there,” said guard D.J. Augustin, who joined the Pacers this offseason as a free agent after four seasons with the Bobcats.
“They came at us with a full court trap and it kind of threw us off our game. They were very intense.”
Dunlap has been preaching defense throughout the preseason and hammering his players with 3- to 4-hour practice sessions to build their conditioning.
It seemed to pay off.
“Guys are really, really buying in and that’s all it takes,” Walker said. “It’s about sacrifice. It’s about buying into what your leader is preaching. It showed tonight. We made some huge stops at the end.”
It was a strange finish as the teams combined to score just two points in the game’s final 2:37. Indiana had several chances but turnovers and missed shots proved to be their undoing.
Augustin tried to bury his old team with an 18-foot jumper from the wing as time expired but it bounced away.
“I had a good look at it, but it just didn’t go down,” Augustin said.
News-Miner sports editor Bob Eley and staff writer Danny Martin contributed to this story. Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.