2004 wasn’t the best year for the Los Angeles Lakers. Their legendary coach, Phil Jackson, left the team, leaving a void. As an added blow, it was also the year when Shaquille O’Neal left, ending an impressive partnership with Kobe Bryant. To replace Jackson at such a time, entered Rudy Tomjanovich.
Although Tomjanovich was a name fit for the Lakers, he had few personalities of his stature to work with, In fact, none apart from Kobe Bryant. More importantly, at 56, coming off a battle with bladder cancer, he was no longer the coach he once used to be.
Tomjanovich had signed a five-year contract with the Lakers in 2004, but hardly stayed for five months. After 41 games with the Lakers, he resigned as the coach, citing mental stress. Towards the end of his coaching career, Tomjanovich acknowledged that it was never a straightforward journey for him.
“It’s always been the hard road,” he said. “It hasn’t been like a superhighway where I’m in a limo and I’m going up to the mountain. It’s like I’m in the jungle and I’ve got a machete and I’ve got to find a way through it.”
Although Rudy resigned as the coach of the Lakers, he continued with them as the consultant till 2017. Meanwhile, Phil Jackson’s assistant coach Frank Hamblen had stepped in as an immediate successor of Rudy.
“It’s always been the hard road,” Rudy T said around the time of his last days coaching. “It hasn’t been like a superhighway where I’m in a limo and I’m going up to the mountain. It’s like I’m in the jungle and I’ve got a machete and I’ve got to find a way through it.”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 4, 2020
Rudy Tomjanovich: An inductee for Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2020
Leaving aside his short Lakers stint, Tomjanovich has had an amazing coaching career. After working as the assistant coach of Houston Rockets for nine years, he became their head coach in 1992. Building a team around Hakeem Olajuwon, he led the Rockets to consecutive NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. He also won an Olympics gold medal with US Basketball team at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Until recently, he was the only eligible coach with multiple championships and an Olympic gold medal who was not in the Hall of Fame. However, he will now be enshrined among the class of 2020 in August.
“Congratulations to Rudy T on his well-deserved and long overdue selection to the Hall of Fame,” Rockets owner Tilman J. Fertitta said. “As a longtime Rockets fan, I admired Rudy’s tenacity as a player and loved watching his attention to detail in coaching the back-to-back championship teams in the 90’s. Heart of a champion! This is an exciting day not only for Rudy and his family, but for Rockets fans everywhere.”