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Richie Adubato… Still a Basketball Lifer

Modified from original, from the Orlando Sentinal By Brian Schmitz

Still at the ready

Orlando Magic radio color analyst, Richie Adubato, right, also manages to use a lot of color in his wardrobe and his stories. At left is play-by-play announcer Dennis Neumann. (Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel / November 16, 2010)

The Magic’s radio gig offers Richie Adubato the chance to stay connected with the game without the stress.

“It’s a lot of fun. You’re still part of it,” he said. “The pressure’s not there, that’s for sure. I don’t stay up until 4 watching tape.”

He has more time to relax at home with Carol, whom he met while serving as an assistant under Hubie Brown with the New York Knicks in the mid-’80s.  Though Carol sends Richie out of the house as much as possible.

And yet he said he would consider coaching again if asked. He’s reminded of his job as coach of the WNBA New York Liberty every time his beagle, Liberty, bounds across the living room.

While some coaches would balk at coaching women, Richie had no problem. Dealing with occasional tears was a challenge. “But they don’t fall asleep in meetings,” he chuckles, “and they smell better.”

Adds Richie, “My wife tells me, ‘You can work forever.'”

Richie might write a book. He has so many stories to tell he has put them on audio-tape. Like this one.

Bella!

When Richie and Carol were in Italy for a basketball clinic, they decided to get married. How romantic, right? But between the language barriers and paperwork, they never exchanged vows.

“Everybody asked me when we came back if we had gotten married, but we couldn’t,” said Adubato, then an assistant coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

Determined, Richie and Carol finally got married in Italy.

Italy, Texas, that is.

It’s about 40 miles south of Dallas. They were married July 25, 1989 in the town of about 1,900 by a justice of the peace who also served as sheriff and mayor. Carol decorated a little courthouse with streamers for the $45 ceremony.

“Anybody asks us where we got married, we say ‘Italy,'” Richie chuckles. “We’re not lying.”

To paraphrase Brent Musburger, you are looking live at Richie Adubato’s closet.

It’s the biggest one in their home in Heathrow, FL, and it contains more bright, wild colors than a kid’s crayon box.

You could probably see the purple smoking jacket and pink tie collection from outer space — without Google Earth.

Richie’s doting wife, Carol, is his fashion consultant. She obviously has a flair for the dramatic, given her background as an off-Broadway actress and budding stand-up comedian.

A youthful-looking 72, Richie will tell you he started donning his neon wardrobe to impress players and gain their acceptance at three NBA stops as a head coach (including an interim gig with the Magic) and two jobs with the WNBA.

These days, Richie’s on the radio, you see. Or you don’t see.

He could wear an entire line from Sears men’s outdoor department and no listeners would be the wiser, even if that plum jacket is louder than a bullhorn.

But then Adubato’s very nature is to put technicolor into his job as the Magic’s color analyst, flavored by bold splashes of humor.

“Richie’s Red Buttons and Red Auerbach rolled into one,” says Scott Anez, longtime WDBO personality and Magic program host.

On air or off, Richie weaves his vast basketball knowledge with some priceless stories …like this one.

Additional duties

Before he landed NBA coaching jobs with the Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and Magic, Adubato toiled 18 years in New Jersey as a high school and small-college coach.

He spent five years running the junior-varsity team in Hoboken, N.J., starting at $150 a season. He then was offered a job at Lady of the Valley in New Orange (where he coached former Magic coach Brian Hill) but there were some strings attached.

Not only did he end up coaching baseball and cross country at the Catholic school, but since athletic programs were funded through Wednesday night bingo, well…”They asked me if I could say, ‘B1’ and ‘G5.” And so I called bingo,” Richie said.

Say what?

Richie bursts at his tailored seams with his love for the game on the air. He does his homework, his notes and pet phrases outlined on paper and, naturally, color coded.

He has so much to say in that New Jersey ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom dialect. Sounding like the lovable Peter Falk Columbo character, he slightly fractures an analysis when a guard challenges Dwight Howard, saying he’s “up Mount Everest without a paddle.”

He has described Mickael Pietrus’ hot shooting as being in “the Francais zone!,” although the French accent is largely unrecognizable. There’s his off-key singing of “Hit The Road, Jack” when a player fouls out.

But that’s what makes Richie Richie, and so endearing as a regular guy who you just might find working behind a bar.

Dennis Neumann, the Magic’s affable radio play-by-play announcer, doesn’t mind if Adubato is still talking while you can hear the crowd in the background cheering a play. “Richie can make you laugh at what he says and the way he says it,” Neumann said.

It isn’t unusual for Neumann to catch up with a possession after Adubato has made a prescient point or finishes a story. Like this one.

On the house

At the same time he was teaching, Adubato, to make ends meet, bartended on weekends while coaching at tiny Division III Upsala College, in East Orange, N.J.

On Friday nights, all the hot-shot high school coaches, including Hubie Brown and Dick Vitale, came into the bar after games.

Upsala nearly beat Georgetown and Virginia Tech on the road, thanks to some free gin-and-tonics and Richie’s innate coaching ability.

“I’d be recruiting behind the bar. I got kids all the time,” Adubato laughed. “If a coach had a kid I needed, he didn’t pay.”  That was long before all the NCAA rules changed the landscape of college recruiting.

Basketball IQ

For Neumann, sharing the mic with Adubato is like taking a master’s class in basketball 101.

“He sees the game so well, sees things you can’t see,” Neumann said. “We can be having coffee, and Richie will grab a napkin and a pen and draw plays — with options for those plays. My eyes just glaze over.”

Adubato replaced Magic coach Brian Hill during the 1996-97 season after a player coup. Richie pushed Pat Riley’s favored Heat to five games in the playoffs. Riley dispatched an assistant over to pass along his praise of Adubato. But the Magic were in need of image repair. They let go of Adubato and hired Chuck Daly.

That was the last straw for Carol, Richie’s wife. She stopped going to games.

Hubie Brown, the former NBA coach and ESPN analyst, says Adubato, his dear friend, “has not been given credit for his basketball IQ because of what a character he is, always entertaining people, because of the stories.”

Like this one.

A bad sign

Adubato seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in his NBA head-coaching jobs.

He took over for Vitale in Detroit, and the Pistons traded star Bob Lanier. He had to rebuild in Dallas during the Roy Tarpley drug mess. He inherited the Magic after the player revolt.

Adubato remembers how it ended with the moribund Mavs. He was having dinner with friends. He saw a painting hanging in the restaurant as an omen.

“I’m gonna get fired tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a sign.”

The painting was of “The Last Supper.”

Sure enough, the Mavs fired Adubato the next morning.

Coach Brown is exactly right, Richie’s basketball acumen is tremendous.  Simply because he can make you laugh and doesn’t have to rant and rave to get his point across doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess incredible basketball knowledge.

Richie was the first of the “NBA guys” hired in the WNBA.  Richie changed the way coaches did everything in the league, he gave it coaching credibility and his impact is still present toady.  At the time the league was just developing and still struggling to identify as a true “professional” league.  Richie was the standard in the league for strategy, X’s and O’s and player relations.  His way of “running a team”  trickled into all facets of the league.  In the coaching realm: how coaches scouted, the sets they ran, the defensive schemes he applied, the types of walk-thru’s he conducted were all brand new.  Now, you can’t watch a WNBA game and not see a set that Richie first brought into the league in 1999.  Many will say that Van Chancellor impacted the league more.  From a winning championships perspective – no question, but no one impacted the coaching and professional development of the WNBA during the early days more than Richie Adubato.

In the many years since Title IX there has been well over 20 women’s professional leagues, only two (the WNBA and the ABL) had lasted over 2 seasons.  The NBA’s David Stern and former WNBA President Val Ackerman pushed the development of the league to new professional heights.  Attaining far greater strides during the leagues first seven years than was anticipated.  Richie Adubato set the standard and the ways for how coaches coach, prepare and win.

Richie deserves another gig on the bench if he wants one.  Why he would want one now, I have no idea… except Richie Adubato is a basketball lifer, he loves the game, he respects the game, its’ players and coaches and he is amazing person to be around.

There are countless more stories… I’m fortunate to heard them all.  I’m sworn to secrecy and the world will have to wait for Richie’s book.  Trust me, the stories are amazing and the book will be worth it.

Because a person possess the gift of understanding a relating to people and can make them laugh only means  they are greater at  their craft than those around them.  That’s Richie Adubato.  Richie has now proven that from the radio broadcast booth as well.  Keep it going Rich!

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