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Daily conversations about life, basketball strengthen Dick and Diante Garrett’s special bond

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Diante Garrett’s dazzling basketball skills, contagious confidence and veteran leadership have provided a big boost for the title-chasing Alvark Tokyo this season.

And it’s quite clear his positive relationship with his father remains a stabilizing force in his life.

Former NBA guard Dick Garrett, an NBA All-Rookie Team selection during the 1969-70 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, speaks to his son every day. They talk on the phone about basketball and the daily events that shape their lives.

For Diante, the daily conversations with his father provide inspiration.

“It means everything to me,” Diante told Hoop Scoop recently. “He’s been in my corner since day one.

“Before every game he calls me. If I don’t get a chance to talk to him, I talk to my mom. Or after the game if I see a missed call that he called me right while I was in the layup line or something like that. So I get a chance to talk to him right before the game or right after the game.”

Are those phone calls a source of comfort? I asked.

“For sure,” Diante responded without hesitation. “He’s my dad, man. He talks basketball a little bit with me, and other than that he’s always in my corner and boosting my confidence up even more.”

Fatherly wisdom accentuates those chats.

“We do talk every day, especially on game day,” Diante’s father told Hoop Scoop by phone from Milwaukee last week, “and my emphasis with him is to stay focused on what you’re doing, make the most out of what you’re doing and enjoy it, and don’t take any days off or anything for granted … stay motivated.”

“Just enjoy the competition,” is Dick Garrett’s advice.

“More than anything else, enjoy life, son, in what you’re doing. You’re doing a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have opportunities to do. You’re going to a lot of places most people don’t have opportunities to go. Don’t take it for granted. Enjoy it every day and treasure what you’re doing … to stay humble and stay in the moment.”

I met Dick Garrett on March 19 about an hour after the Alvark defeated the Sunrockers Shibuya at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall, where Diante drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift his team to victory.

It was a perfect day for introductions.

Father and son shared smiles after the game along with other members of the Garrett family, including Diante’s mother, LaRisa, his fiancee and son.

Several weeks later, I asked Diante to describe what that experience was like.

“The family was there,” he said, smiling. “I had a great weekend.”

He scored 25 points in a 32-point blowout win in the series opener and then delivered the game’s top highlight a day later.

“I came out the second game and hit the game-winner,” he said. “What else can you ask for?”

Noting the ongoing success of the Alvark this season — they enter the B. League playoffs with a 44-16 record and open their postseason campaign against the visiting San-en NeoPhoenix (33-27) on Saturday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 — Dick Garrett, now 70, reminds his son “to do great things for yourself, for your team, and that’s rewarding.”

Indeed, it has been. Diante averaged 18.1 points (the sixth-highest total in the B. League), 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals in 58 regular-season games. In short, he’s the catalyst of Tokyo’s high-powered offense. He’s listed as a shooting guard, but the 196-cm Diante’s passing ability often finds him running the show during key moments for the Alvark. After all, he’s a closer, someone the Tokyo coaching staff relies on to make big plays at the end of games.

Diante has been a good fit for the Alvark. He’s expected to post big numbers, but also numbers that produce victories.

“I came in aggressive. I played my role,” Diante said, looking back at his role this season. “Everybody on this team has confidence in me to go out and play my game, and that’s me being aggressive, either scoring or penetrating and finding the great shooters that we have on this team. And just running this squad, I think the coach (Takuma Ito) put me in the position to play my game and have fun out there.”

Diante’s rise to stardom

The elder Garrett recalls Diante being “a pretty good player as a kid, not a greatly gifted player, but he loved to play all the time.”

Dick described his son as “a gym rat.”

“As he got older,” he added, “even in high school he would leave practice, then spend the rest of the evening once he finished his homework at the Y (YMCA) playing. With all the time and the effort that he put in, it just all came to fruition.”

What’s similar and what’s different about the way Dick and Diante play the game?

This is the father’s rejoinder: “We both loved to compete. Diante I think is probably more less-known as a good shooter; of course that was my strongest suit. I think his strongest suit is his playmaking and his ball-handling ability.”

“I wish I could handle the ball as well as he could. I might still be playing,” he added with a laugh.

“He’s become real crafty and real heady with the basketball. I wish I had those skills. I think along my generation we more concentrated on fundamentals of shooting and stuff like that. So I think that’s why in the past older guys were better shooters because that’s kind of what we concentrated on.”

During Diante’s first three seasons at Iowa State, teammate Craig Brackins, a power forward who played for the Shiga Lakestars this season, was often a go-to option on offense. After Brackins departed in 2010 — he was a first-round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder — Garrett’s role increased the next season, when Fred Hoiberg, the future Chicago Bulls bench boss who replaced Greg McDermott, was appointed head coach.

“It was great playing with him,” Diante said of Brackins, “so I learned the point-guard role. My confidence was always there, but a lot of plays were for our big man. And then when Fred Hoiberg came in, the first day when I talked to him he told me that the ball’s going to be in your hands a lot.”

Looking back, Diante admitted that Hoiberg’s confidence in him was a big deal.

“In my head,” he recalled, “I was personally like, ‘Yes!,’ I can let loose a little bit with what I did my senior year.

“That first year with Fred Hoiberg was great. I wish I had two years with him, but it didn’t happen. But I’m glad I set the tone at Iowa State my senior year.”

As a senior during the 2010-11 season, Diante was named to the All-Big 12 Conference Second Team. He averaged 17.3 points, a conference-best 6.1 assists and 1.7 steals for the Cyclones.

Diante’s pro career

Though he went undrafted after his senior season, he had already made a name for himself in both the United States and in overseas basketball circles. In other words, he was a proven commodity, just like his father more than four decades earlier.

During Diante’s rookie season, which began with KK Zagreb in the Croatian League, his parents traveled overseas to watch his first game in 2011. (He completed that season in France.)

He received limited playing time for the Phoenix Suns in the 2012-13 season, appearing in 19 games. Which factored into his multiple stints with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League.

The next season, he was waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder before joining the Utah Jazz in November. With the Jazz, under then-coach Tyrone Corbin, he was called into action in 71 games and contributed 3.5 points and 1.7 assists in just under 15 minutes.

Among those games was Utah’s March, 3, 2014, clash with the host Milwaukee Bucks, taking place at Dick’s place of part-time employment, Bradley Center. He’s an usher for Bucks games, but was given the night off. Instead, the Utah newspaper Deseret News reported, he sat with his family behind the Jazz bench.

On that special day, Diante’s career came full circle. Diante was in his hometown — he graduated from Harold S. Vincent High — suiting up play the game he and his father both loved.

The Jazz lost, 114-88. Diante came off the bench to score two points and dish out three assists in almost 20 minutes.

The bigger story, of course, was this: His family shared the experience together.

“Playing at the highest level of basketball and getting the chance to play in front of your family in front of your hometown, that’s love right there,” Diante said recently.

“Getting the chance to go play there in Milwaukee was a great feeling. I think any kid playing in their hometown in the NBA is a great feeling.”

Diante made the D-League All-Star team in 2015. And when he played for Maccabi Ashdod in the 2015-16 Israeli Basketball Premier League campaign, his parents visited Tel Aviv to see him compete.

“We pretty much as a family keep up with everything basketball-wise,” said the elder Garrett, who starred for the Southern Illinois University Salukis from 1966-69 and was selected in the second round with the 27th overall pick by the Lakers in the 1969 draft. “My family, wife’s family, all her brothers played basketball so it’s kind of in our blood.”

Of Diante’s mother’s four brothers, three of them played four years of college hoops. Diante’s older brother, Damon, also a guard, suited up for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, an NCAA Division III school.

“It runs in the family,” said Dick Garrett, whose pro career also included stops with the Buffalo Braves (1970-73), New York Knicks (1973) and Milwaukee Bucks (1973-74).

Shared memories

After his playing days, Dick spent nearly 30 years as a sales representative for Miller Brewing Co. before starting his part-time gig with the Bucks. He’s served an usher at Bucks home games since 2000, according to published reports, usually working about 35-40 games a year at the Bradley Center.

Has the elder Garrett shared specific advice from former coaches Jack Ramsay and Red Holzman, among others, with him?

“I try to impart any of the information or any of the things that I’ve gone through on to him,” said Dick Garrett, who averaged 10.3 points and 2.5 assists in 339 regular-season games in the NBA.

While keeping in contact with numerous former teammates, some of which became coaches, the former SIU star remains an avid observer of the sport.

“I pass on any knowledge that I have about basketball,” he added, “(but) not just basketball, but about life. Most guys just kind of play the game without thinking as to, you know, what to do during the game. They just kind of react. If you take the time to study what you’re supposed to be doing, study your opponent and things like that, whatever advantage you can get I try to impart those things on to Diante.”

Though Diante loves the game, he doesn’t get wrapped up in details about his father’s career or that era of pro ball. Simply put, he’s maintained a healthy interest in his father’s former career, not an obsession.

Asked if he had a favorite story from those times, Diante said, “I really don’t know.”

“All of it is just cool,” he went on. “My dad playing in the NBA with, like, legends, and having that guy to go talk to about whatever and what happened in the NBA back then, and talk about legends and stuff like that, and seeing those legends on TV and just looking, ‘My dad played against him.’ Or, ‘My dad was playing with him.’ “

With NBA-TV — and increasingly snippets on YouTube and similar websites — airing old games, Diante has access to footage of his father’s years in the league, including great Lakers and Knicks teams.

“It’s real cool to see my dad on TV playing back in the day,” Diante declared, calling it “a great feeling.”

Impressions of legends

Noting the remarkable talent that Dick Garrett played with and against during his pro career, I inquired if he considers his Lakers teammate Wilt Chamberlain the greatest player of all time.

“Saying that Wilt would be the best player, you could probably have an argument both ways. You’d have to go through who was the best player at his position — that kind of thing,” he said before discussing Air Jordan and two legendary Bucks teammates.

“In my estimation, I think Michael Jordan was the best player ever; now that’s not to diminish Wilt or Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or Oscar Robertson. And I would put Oscar second, in my opinion, and then it’s probably between Wilt and Kareem. …

“But if you just go by numbers alone, I don’t know how you can say Wilt’s not the best player and the numbers that he put up,” he added.

And what was it like driving the lane with Boston Celtics center Bill Russell or Wilt or Kareem there waiting on defense?

“I’ll put it this way: If you watch games nowadays, it’s not as physical as it was in my day,” Dick Garrett recalled.

He elaborated: “Back in my day if you would come to the lane against certain guys you could look to get hammered, but that was just a part of the game. They don’t allow that anymore, probably a good thing also because guys are getting so much bigger and so much stronger that it can turn into something real ugly, real quick.

“But going down the lane against Wilt, Bill Russell, Willis Reed and somebody like that, you can look to get touched.”

During our conversation, the elder Garrett recounted a story he’s heard many times from Sam Williams, one of the original Bucks during the team’s inaugural 1968-69 season, that touched on the hard-nosed physical play that defined the game in past decades, when hand-checking was permitted.

“He often mentions the time that he was a rookie and he went in and he dunked on Bill Russell,” Dick told Hoop Scoop. “And when timeout was called and they were walking back to the huddle, Bill Russell looked at him and said, ‘Come here again like that, I’m going to break your (expletive) neck.’ “

Sure, the object of the game has always been the same: to score points, but the intimidation factor played a bigger role in years past when enforcers roamed inside and often whacked anyone attempting a shot and before then-commissioner David Stern got rid of hand-checking after the 2003-04 season.

Case in point: Chamberlain, who stood 216 cm and weighed 125 kg, took plenty of abuse from foes. It was a part of the game that Garrett vividly remembers from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“I’ve seen guys almost maul Wilt in the lane and nothing was called,” he stated, “but they don’t allow that nowadays. They’ve cleaned some of that up, and it’s probably a good thing also.”

Proving he belonged

As a rookie, Dick Garrett’s 11.6 ppg helped him earn NBA All-Rookie Team accolades while playing for Joe Mullaney, who guided the Lakers before Hall of Famer Bill Sharman took over in ’71.

Dick never aimed to receive all-rookie honors, he admitted, but his effort and determination to succeed paid off.

“I played hard, I practiced hard,” he told me. “My goal was to become a starter. … My thoughts then was I thought I could play as well as any of the other rookies, and if I go in I put in the work and the rest of it will take care of itself.”

That’s what happened. Garrett’s spot on the 1969-70 All-Rookie Team put him alongside four others in the league’s annals: Mike Davis of the Baltimore Bullets, Jo Jo White of the Boston Celtics and Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bob Dandridge of the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Fortunately, I was given an opportunity, and I just tried to make the most of it,” he said before calling that season his “biggest accomplishment as a pro.”

Epic showdown

That Lakers team, which was fueled by Jerry West’s league-best 31.2 points per game and fellow stars Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, went 46-36 in the regular season, advanced to the NBA Finals and lost to the Knicks in seven games.

In the 1970 Finals, Garrett went head-to-head with Knicks guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier, his former Salukis teammate.

Here’s his summary of that experience: “I held my own for six games and in the seventh game I didn’t do anything with him, but I wasn’t the first person that was in that situation.”

In Game 6, Garrett scored 18 points for the second straight contest. He made 9 of 11 shots from the field and dished out six assists in the Lakers’ 135-113 home victory, which forced a winner-take-all Game 7.

In the series finale, on May 8, 1970, at Madison Square Garden, Frazier erupted for 36 points on 12-for-17 shooting (plus 12-for-12 at the foul line), 19 assists and seven rebounds in 44 scintillating minutes as the Knicks captured their first NBA crown with a 113-99 victory. Before the finale, Frazier hadn’t score more than 21 points in any of the previous six games.

Additional impressions

Confidence played a big part in Dick Garrett’s five NBA seasons. It helped him maintain his focus and concentration against that era’s superstars.

As he tells his son, “Never put a thought in your head while you’re playing that somebody is better than you.”

He added: “I knew guys like Oscar and Jerry West, those guys were better than me, but when I took the floor against them I didn’t think they were. So it was just a matter of doing the best you can, and live with the consequences as long as you put in your effort … and then start to believe in yourself. That takes you a long ways.”

To gain some additional insight on how Dick views his generation of NBA players, I brought up Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo’s name. I asked him if he considered ex-Buffalo teammate McAdoo, whose NBA career spanned from 1972-86, an overlooked star, especially by those who began watching the game in the 21st century.

“There were probably a lot of guys in my era that some people don’t know how good they were,” he commented.

On the day of my wide-ranging conversation with Dick Garrett, he had already finished having breakfast with Williams, one of his close friends.

While eating their morning meal, the two pals talked about “a sports talk show talking about players in the NBA and how good they were and who was good, but nothing was mentioned about the guys from the ’70s,” Dick pointed out. “And I don’t know if these guys had played against Jerry West and Walt Frazier and Nate Archibald and Lou Hudson and Pete Maravich and those type of guys, and then the bigger guys were the Willis Reeds and the Wilts and the Kareems. I don’t think they’d be able to do anything with them…”

While Ramsay and Holzman’s names came up in our discussion about elite coaches in the pros, the elder Garrett considers Jack Hartman, his mentor at SIU, the best coach he played for.

Somewhat surprised, I pressed him to explain this line of thinking.

“Well, I think it was the motivating factor that he had,” he said of Hartman, who guided the Salukis to a 24-2 record in the 1966-67 season, including the NIT title. That was Garrett’s sophomore season, but first on the squad (the NCAA didn’t permit freshman to play at the varsity level in that era).

“I think he did things right,” Dick added. “He motivated you. When you did things wrong he would stay on you, but he would come back and have a smooth-it-over (talk) with you. He was a coach that would let a player know what he expected from you, and some coaches never impart that to a player. … And most players if you let them know what you expect out of them, especially athletes nowadays, the guys are so good … then I think that’s what you get out of them.”

With impressive teamwork and chemistry, the Holzman-led Knicks exhibited an attractive style of play that Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls, to some extent, exhibited during their dynasty years. The ex-Knick Jackson, a Holzman disciple, incorporated the triangle offense with team-first principles to elevate his Bulls and Lakers teams, and the similar chemistry displayed by the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in recent years has also impressed Dick Garrett.

Were the Knicks teams of Reed, Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and others among the all-time greats, in Dick’s opinion?

What about the 1971-72 Lakers (two seasons after Dick left the club and went to Buffalo), who rolled to 33 straight wins, a 69-13 overall record and a title?

“They were all great teams,” he said, diplomatically. “Even Golden State and the Cleveland teams now, those guys seem to have the right formula, and that’s the cohesiveness on any given night any one of those guys can light you up, and they seem to feed off of each other. It’s not just one guy; (for the Warriors), one night it’s (Steph) Curry or (Klay) Thompson. One night it might be LeBron (James) or Kyrie Irving or the X-factor of one of the other guys stepping up off the bench (for the Cavaliers).”

Assembling a talented, versatile roster that works as a unit proved to be one of the Warriors’ biggest accomplishments in recent years. Case in point: Golden State sixth man Andre Iguodala earned the Finals MVP award two seasons ago, Dick pointed out.

“Those are the sort of the things that make championship teams anyway,” he added.

And when a system’s established that delivers playoff trip after playoff trip, major overhauls are rare. He brought up the Spurs, who have no secrets under Gregg Popovich. “If you play for him,” Dick underlined, “you know what’s expected, he’s communicated that to you, and you act accordingly.

“Players will listen to these coaches. A guy like that who has that reputation, if you’re coming in as a player and you’ve got Gregg Popovich as your coach with his history or Phil Jackson with his history or Pat Riley or any of these guys with that kind of reputation, you’d want to listen to them, because if you did you know their track record there has had a lot of success…”

Success. It’s a recurring theme for Dick Garrett. He talks about the building blocks of success with his son during their conversations.

Those words and phrases serve as daily reminders to Diante about what it takes to succeed.

It’s working. Diante Garrett is completing his sixth season as a pro player. He’s surpassed his father’s five pro seasons, with no signs of slowing down.

Sure, Diante moves swiftly on the court, but he always has time to slow down a bit, to pick up the phone and converse about basketball and life with his father.

It’s a good reminder about life’s most important connections.

Family.

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