LAS VEGAS — The tall redhead trying to save Darren Erman from picking up a technical foul looked eerily familiar. He used to wear a headband, maneuver his way to the corner for 3-pointers, and draw chants from the TD Garden crowd, who craved his presence during garbage time.
Brian Scalabrine, the former Celtics fan favorite, has taken an assistant coaching position with the Golden State Warriors, joining Mark Jackson’s staff. He made his debut, assisting Erman (formerly on the Celtics staff), in the Las Vegas Summer League on Saturday.
Scalabrine worked last season with Comcast SportsNet and ESPN, wowing television executives with his bubbly personality and knowledge of the game. Jackson noticed the same characteristics and the two talked for an hour about joining the Warriors’ staff. It was evident that Scalabrine was attracted to coaching.
“I only have one responsibility right now and that’s to keep our head coach, Darren Erman, from getting a tech, I don’t have to do as much as one would think,” Scalabrine joked Saturday. “Coach Jackson, I walked into his office with no intent [on coaching], just wanted to hear what he had to say and five minutes later I was thinking I gotta try to convince my wife I could do this.”
Since he retired from the NBA after the 2011-12 season, Scalabrine has been enjoying himself, transferring his always-engaging personality to television commentating, but he maintained a desire to stay in the league.
The coaching roads are difficult to navigate for those without experience. Some former players become scouts or head to the NBA Development League. Scalabrine gained a favorable reputation with coaches such as Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, and that fostered his opportunities.
“Doc Rivers gave me good advice, he said, ‘You always want to be able to do both [TV and coaching],’ ” Scalabrine said. “So it gives me an opportunity to learn. I think the Warriors are a great team. Any time you get an opportunity to win a championship, and I think they are a championship-caliber team, you want to take advantage of that.”
For Jackson — who lost one of his top assistants, Mike Malone, now coach of the Sacramento Kings — hiring Scalabrine was a rather easy decision.
“He’s a guy I spent a lot of time with when the Celtics were in the playoffs and before games we’d talk and chop it up,” Jackson said. “You never know who you’re interviewing for before you even interview. So I didn’t even have to give him a job interview. I know his knowledge. I know his passion. I know his commitment and I have a lot of respect for him. We’re thrilled to have him on board.
“He brings a guy that is an overachiever, a guy that understands. He’s a champion. He’s played with great players and great coaches and he’s passionate about the game. He’s not talking from seeing it. He’s talking from experience.”
Scalabrine could have continued his television career. But Rivers and Thibodeau kept advising him to consider coaching. And with his family in Washington, the opportunity to relocate to Oakland was too good to pass up.
If Scalabrine would have remained based in Boston, he said the travel would have been more difficult on his wife and three children.
“I never thought I was going to go back overseas, my wife was adamant about me not doing that,” he said. “The bigger deal was to leave potentially a lifelong career [in broadcasting] for something that’s more like a carousel. I think that was pretty much the biggest decision.
“I want to be around the game and I want to make a difference. That’s what I am at heart. The media stuff was great, I had a fantastic time. I wouldn’t mind going back and doing it one day.”
Scalabrine said he will navigate the coaching roads slowly. He is a 35-year-old NBA assistant just looking to impress his boss, who is looking on during summer league games. One major factor that kept Scalabrine in the league for 11 seasons was his basketball IQ. While Scalabrine was sometimes cast as a sideshow at TD Garden, he impressed his coaches with his knowledge and that skill translated well to television — and perhaps also to coaching.
“I have no idea [if I want to be a head coach], one game at a time,” Scalabrine said. “What I am really looking forward to is learning from Coach Jackson. I’ve learned from Thibs. I learned from Doc. I’ve learned from Lawrence Frank, Byron Scott, Eddie Jordan. I want to learn from the inside. I’m fascinated by knowledge and I’m fascinated by learning.”
When asked if his three children know their dad is now a coach, Scalabrine said, “They don’t really understand. I don’t really understand it. I don’t even know what I got myself into.”