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Coach Curley Talks NBA Finals, Celtic Greats, and His Own Career

 Bill Curley cuts down the net after the Emerson College Lions won the NEWMAC championship in 2019.
Men’s basketball coach Bill Curley cuts down the net after the Emerson College Lions won the NEWMAC championship in 2019.
By David Ertischek ’01

With the NBA Finals upon us, we caught up with Emerson College men’s basketball head coach Bill Curley, who was named NEWMAC Coach of the Year this season, and had his jersey retired by his alma mater Boston College during the season. We asked about his favorite players to watch, to play with, and which team will be victorious in the NBA Finals.

Q: Who do you think will win the NBA championship?

Curley: That’s a tough one. Can Golden State get healthy? I love the way they play. I think they play basketball the way you’re supposed to. They may be getting a little crabby or tired of the regular season. They understand what championships are about, and team ball, whether it’s on the offensive or defensive side. Through the years, several teams have come [to Emerson’s gym] and practiced. [The Warriors] have been the best that come in. Some guys come in and treat it like a shoot-around. They come and bust their butts. They had fun, but they were working and competing. They’re definitely a hard team to root against in my mind.

Q: Who is your favorite NBA player to watch?

Curley: That’s hard to say. I don’t necessarily watch as much NBA as you think. I was impressed with what [Joel] Embiid did here. This guy was hurt, and to see how big he is… And the shots he’s hitting. I enjoyed watching him. I’m a big Steph [Curry] fan and Klay [Thompson] — how they move without the ball. Steph will put a razzle-dazzle on it, but what they can do without constantly dribbling — it’s good to see good basketball and teamwork.

We’ve seen guys who [think they] are too good to practice. Lebron [James] came here, and practiced for two hours after playing 40 minutes the night before and he’s a guy who’s been in the finals eight years in a row, and he’s going hard in practice. Other guys say, ‘I’m going to just sit down.’

Playing with Kevin Garnett — the way you see him on the court, he was like that at 9:00 am at practice. Granted he was younger, you can see the guys who just love basketball and have that natural energy. The ball starts bouncing and they’re popping all over the gym. Those are the things I respect.

A lot of it has to be with who you’re coming into the league with, who are your mentors, who shows you how to be a professional. I had Johnny Dawkins, Mark West… coming off four games in five nights, and we got the day off, and they were like, ‘C’mon, Bill, let’s go to the gym.’ I was like, ‘This is a day off,’ and they said ‘Not today.’ Granted, rest is a part of success, but just to [have mentors to] learn how this is a job and this is what you need to do to respect the game. It’s interesting to see who has been coached by certain people. You know, ‘He’s going to practice every day.’

Q: Who was the toughest player you ever guarded?

Curley: Obviously, Shaq [uille O’Neal] would have to be there. Go out and stand out on Boylston Street when a construction truck is coming and put out your forearm and try to make it move an inch. You were at his mercy. You couldn’t move him. If you could move him instead of have him dunk then you did alright. You wanted him to shoot it.

Derrick Coleman. He was incredible. He was inside and outside, posted up and rebounded. I worked out with him my rookie year in Detroit. He was a Detroit kid.

Q: Who would be your all-time starting five?

Curley: I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’m a Boston guy, I’m going to bleed green. It’s hard to say otherwise. It’s hard to go against the Celtics when you see all the championships they’ve won. Look at [Bill] Russell title after title — college, Olympics, NBA. Can you put a finger on that he had this [teammate] or that [teammate]? He wins. Is he the best scorer? He couldn’t be that lucky, when he had all of those teammates… I wouldn’t really say I have a top five. I throw [Larry] Bird in there. He was God to me. I hated the Lakers. Now I’m older and more mature. Bird is at the top of [my list]. It started with Russell. It started with [John] Havlicek, [Dave] Cowens. I’ll take five Celtics against anyone else’s top five. I’m a homer.

Q: Who was your favorite player(s) to play with – the guy you had an amazing rapport with on the court?

Curley: Howard Eisley. Just guys you play with and you kind of build that [rapport] up with. I don’t know if you can just step on the court [together]. I’ll take my three guards I had [at Boston College]. We knew how to play with each other. Obviously playing with KG, especially when I got there, the energy he had and what you could do with him. You can pass it to him where someone else can’t catch. He can catch it. Defensively, he made up for everything.

Q: Today’s NBA is different than the NBA you played in. How do you think you’d fare in today’s NBA?

Curley: My NBA career sucked. It was a nightmare because of the injuries. You get to this point, you get a nice car and don’t have gas to get it to go. My body took a beating in the Big East… and not understanding nutrition… everything caught up to me by the time I got there. It’s hard to say. But honestly, could I play? My best [advantage] was I knew how to play. I was a skilled player, I was never going to outrun or out jump guys. You have to be a decent athlete. I got there because I knew how to play. I’m a shooter. I see the court well. [If you’re good] you can play with anyone or anywhere, this time or that time, the more things change the more things stay the same.

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