By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Lewis D’Antoni is a competitive man.
Just ask his son, Mike.
“It didn’t matter what it was,” Mike said. “It was everything. Cards. Cornhole. Basketball. Baseball. Golf. He was competitive at everything and everything he did he was great. He did it with a lot of grace.”
Given Lewis’ athletic and competitive nature — he famously hit a hole-in-one on the fourth hole at Twin Falls State Park at the spry age of 91 — it’s no surprise that when it came time to plan a celebration for his centennial celebration, a golf event was chosen.
And when you’ve lived as fulfilling of a life as Lewis D’Antoni, it should be no surprise that over 80 golfers, encompassing generations from 13-year-old West Virginia amateur standout Colin Bowles to another retired Mullens basketball legend Don Nuckols — and everyone in between — came out to honor the father of Wyoming County basketball.
“It’s great that all of these guys came out,” Mike said for his father. “It’s great that he’s lived this long and had such a productive life. He’s touched a lot of people.”
D’Antoni, who will turn 100 years old on December 31, was born in the small Mercer County town of McComas three years after his father Andrea came to the United States from Italy, looking for an opportunity and a chance to create a better life.
Through hard work — and sometimes great difficulty — he was able to create that life, and it was one which Lewis ran with.
D’Antoni became one of the most successful coaches in West Virginia basketball history, winning over 450 games and a state championship for Mullens, as well as creating an up-tempo, fast break driven style of hoops that his son Mike has carried along with him at every step of his career; from Marshall to Italy and now as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, running that same offense with greats like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
But it’s not the X’s-and-O’s lessons that Mike is most grateful for. It’s the life lessons his father gave him.
“He always told me to just be humble,” Mike admitted. “To just enjoy your friends and family. That’s the biggest thing. And to always remember that anything is possible. Go and do it and if it works out — great. If it doesn’t you’ve got your friends and family. That’s all that matters.”
That doesn’t mean Lewis, who lives with Mike during the winter and never misses a game, doesn’t offer is coaching sons, Mike and Dan, who serves as an assistant on the Lakers’ staff, plenty of advice.
“I hear from him all the time,” Mike said with a laugh. “I’ve got a whole family of advice. Advice is easy to come by.”
And just as Andrea created an opportunity at a better life for Lewis, Lewis did the same for his children.
“I couldn’t have grown up the way we grew up without him,” Mike said. “To have the opportunities that these guys gave me and the support they gave me. I couldn’t have planned it. It’s a storybook tale and they’re all responsible for it. I just took advantage of it.”
Mike seemed to enjoy his time in Wyoming County, noting that many of his friends had “changed their appearance over the years” while pointing to his graying hair, it will be short lived.
D’Antoni will get back to work on year number two with the Lakers in just a few weeks, as NBA training camp begins on September 27.
“It will be a challenging year,” he admitted. “Every team is the same right now. Every team thinks they can win the title. That’s what we’ll go with and see how we do.”
The Lakers limped into the playoffs during the final days of the regular season, while their leader, Kobe Bryant, limped his way off the court after tearing his Achilles tendon in the second to last game of the regular season. D’Antoni hopes to see him back this season.
“He’s good,” he said. “He’s as good as he can be. He’ll work at it so hard. He’s the kind of guy who can overcome anything. We’re really betting on him to return.”
—E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.