I realized today that it has been 419 days since the passing of Leslie Nielsen, which naturally reminds me of former Los Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris. The physical resemblance was always striking to me. Of course, they couldn’t be any more different personality-wise.
Harris coached the Lakers from 1994 through the middle of the 1999 season. He won the Coach of the Year in his first year in L.A. while leading the team back into relevancy. He was excellent in turning bad teams into good ones.
With that said, he was the weirdest man I have ever seen associated with the game of basketball. Delmer (his given name) reminded you more of a science teacher than anything. He was also the most awkward guy ever.
I used to go to all of the games at the Forum in the mid 90s as a kid, and Harris was a riot. When you are a fan seated near the tunnel like I was, it was quite common to get high fives or fist pounds from people who would be walking by, such as players, coaches and the like. Delmer, however, had this complete uneasiness about it, though.
Everyone would hold out their hands or fists for him to clap or pound, and he would just look over like it was the most disgusting, unsanitary thing to do in the world. It wasn’t like he was being arrogant or disrespectful. He genuinely wanted to show appreciation to the fans, but he just didn’t know how. So, he would end up giving a wry smile as he was walking by.
There was one instance that took the cake, however. Finally, he decided to be brave and really try to show love to the people. So he walks by the tunnel and does an imaginary hand clap with everyone hanging over the railing. However, he did it with one hand from long distance … with his hand moving in the motion of a tidal wave. It was the equivalent of seeing an old white guy doing the “Dougie” — except a thousand times worse. It was just goofy.
Another of story of Harris that comes to mind takes place during a regular season game at the Forum back in … I want to say 1998. In fact, it was Halloween, so it was probably opening night. The Lakers were cruising in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, some guy walked directly behind the Lakers’ bench dressed up as Delmer. The get-up was spot on and the guy was putting on a show.
The entire Lakers team saw this and were in stitches for a good five minutes, with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way. Delmer looked completely embarrassed and tried to play it off, but to no avail. He was just too awkward to play it off, laugh at himself or come up with a proper comeback at everyone laughing at him.
The team couldn’t regain its composure and ended up blowing their huge lead — and the game.
Harris was last seen as head coach of the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League.