Much has been written about Alvin Gentry's exploits as a coach in the NBA. From the lowest of lows, such as having to deal with the irrational Donald Sterling in his final season at head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, to the highest of highs, say his 2010 run with the Phoenix Suns or last season's impressive championship win while with the Golden State Warriors, Gentry has experienced a roller coaster of emotions on the court.
Most are aware of his love for all things funny as well as his good-natured disposition. Outside of Kevin Garnett, there has probably never been another person on this earth who has ever said anything negative about Gentry. However, after 35 years of standing on sidelines, I'd reckon most don't know the story of Alvin Gentry off the court. Let's change that and give him some credit for the aspect of his life that assuredly makes him proudest.
The early years
Alvin Gentry was born November 5th, 1954 in Selby, North Carolina. It's a quaint town of less than 20,000 people and is best known for the Cleveland County Fair and the Livermush Expo. What is livermush? Well, if one can eat hot dogs, they shouldn't have trouble eating what locals call the perfect food.
Gentry was one of six kids born to the late couple of Bulah Mae and G.H. Gentry. The pair was married for 63 years before Alvin's mother passed away in 2005. There is no doubt his parents were directly responsible for shaping the way Gentry behaves and carries himself today.
His father never went to school, so he never learned to write, but he always provided for his family as best he could working in a bakery, as a janitor and in a textile factory. He was best known, though, for all of his good Samaritan efforts. G.H. was a deacon for 67 years and was always helping the less fortunate such as bringing food to the needy or visiting random hospital patients.
Gentry's mother was also a blue collar worker having served as a school cafeteria worker and a maid. If Alvin's father gets the credit for instilling unselfishness in his son, his mother was certainly responsible for the humor as Bulah Mae was well regarded for her jokes. In addition, go back and glance at the picture at the top of this article. It's been said that is precisely the same pose his mother used to make all the time.
Through his parents' guidance, a solid Christian upbringing and a competitive fire kept him not only on the straight and narrow but also helped Alvin to excel. For instance, he and a friend were elected Vice President and President in high school despite the fact Shelby had multiple issues with segregation in his formative years and the high school was predominantly white.
Gentry told the Detroit Free Press, "I don’t have one of those kind of heartache stories to tell. There was always all kinds of lovin’ in my house." The Gentrys valued education highly. As a student, Gentry showed an aptitude for mathematics, and his older sister Loretta went on to become a senior analyst for the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C.
However, it was on the basketball court that Gentry found his calling. He claims to have fallen in love with it after scoring 51 of his team's 56 points in a game. The fact that David Thompson is his first cousin, one of only 5 players to ever score 70 points or more in an NBA game, didn't hurt matters either.
In fact, it was due to Thompson that Gentry probably fell into coaching. After a 4-year career at Appalachian State University, where he ended up starting 20 games, NBA and ABA scouts were not knocking down the door of a collegiate player who averaged 6.0 points and 2.0 rebounds a game. However, due to Thompson's stature within the ABA, he got Gentry a tryout with the Denver Nuggets in 1977. Although he failed to make the team, he did connect with head coach Larry Brown who went on to become the most responsible individual for shaping Gentry's career path.
Out of basketball comes love
While an assistant coach at Colorado University, Gentry married Pat Sue DeLuca. Although they went on to get divorced just five years later, they did have one daughter, Alexis Gentry. She has been with Alvin through a few of his NBA travels and even chronicled one such time. (Notice it's another example of the lighthearted and fun atmosphere that surrounds Gentry.)
As I walked around the locker room, I caught a glimpse of something sure to be familiar to Suns fans that, like myself, spend a lot of time avoiding work by browsing the clips in the multimedia section on suns.com. Yep, it was the infamous bike belonging to everyone’s favorite ponytailed PF, Lou Amundson. I overheard a few potential plots to hide the bike, but it managed to stay in the same place the whole day, something I can only attribute to Shaq having the day off.
I chilled out on the sidelines of the practice court as coaches Dan Majerle, Bill Cartwright and Igor Kokoskov worked with the younger players like Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, Alando Tucker, Goran Dragic and Amundson. As things started to wind down, Dudley, Tucker, Dragic and Amundson played a quick game as my dad Alvin Gentry and the other coaches gave hilarious commentary.
Currently, Alexis runs an entertainment and pop culture blog with her mother called TrashWire. She started it over 15 years ago while just a student in high school. However, for the purposes of this article, it is important to note that she was responsible for getting Alvin Gentry on twitter before most other coaches even knew what social media was.
After leaving Colorado, Gentry took an assistant job under Larry Brown at Kansas University. In several years time, he won his first ever championship on any level as a coach on the 1988 Danny Manning-led squad. Notwithstanding, this accomplishment directly led to the Spurs whisking Brown away to the NBA. Gentry followed, and during his short stay in San Antonio, he met his second and current wife, Suzanne Harris, who directed corporate sales for the team at the time.
She and Gentry got married in 2010 and have two sons, Matthew and Ryan. Their marriage was featured in the 23rd edition of the Arizona Wedding Magazine. In the two page article, the Gentry's gave some good advice.
"We deeply love each other and are committed to making it work," Suzanne Gentry reveals in the article, "It takes two people willing to communicate and compromise for the good of the relationship. It requires respect, perseverance and forgiveness."
With children, and nearly two decades of marriage together, Suzanne has what she calls realistic advice for couples about to tie the knot. "Marriage is hard work. The intense love and passion you feel in the beginning is just the tip of the iceberg. Life often presents unexpected challenges that make the feelings of love seem not as strong. But love is not just a feeling. It is a choice."
At last check, the Gentry family was planning on driving to and around California looking at universities for Matthew; however in their spare time, they do support a number of good causes. One such example is for programs that benefit Alzeheimer's research. This one strikes close to Gentry's heart because his mother was afflicted with this terrible disease, and it was hard to watch for the entire family to watch her struggle with it in the final years of her life.
Some shining moments
There are probably a countless number of Alvin Gentry stories, and if I've miss a few of the classics, please mention them in the comments section below. For now, though, these are some of my favorites.
- A naked Shaquille O'Neal terrorizing the locker room.
- Sorry Doug Collins, but that was Kobe Bryant slapping Gentry's ass, not his shoulder.
- The Lamborghini bet by Shaq
- Curling up to a waste basket on national television
Whether it's because of an apparent lack of confrontation or the fact he seems to be one of the most normal figures in the NBA today, very little has been written about the person that spends his time away from a basketball court. That's unfortunate because Alvin Gentry should be lauded for his persona at every turn.
"My dad passed away three years ago,'' Gentry says, "But I clearly remember something he liked to say: 'It's hard work to be a jerk.'"
You have no idea.
Grant Hill and I were talking about this," he says. "I wonder if there's a gene in some players that makes them be a jerk. It's so much easier to be nice to people. Isn't it innate in all of us anyway to be nice to everyone?"
How cool of an attitude is that? Gentry is truly one of the 'good guys' and we'd be hard-pressed to find a better man to represent not only the Pelicans but the vibrant city that is New Orleans.