On the surface, it appears that the only things Chris Collins currently share with his father Doug are a last name and a profession.
Chris is an associate head coach at Duke, and his father is the head coach for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. Chris’s Blue Devils are the No. 6 team in college basketball but Doug’s 76ers sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with a 22-29 record. Chris has not spent a day in the NBA, but his father has played, coached and broadcasted NBA basketball for the past four decades.
But when you watch them work, they share the same stature on the sidelines, the same cerebral understanding of the game and the same fiery intensity that makes the pair one of the premiere father-son coaching duos in the game of basketball.
Doug practically raised his son on the court. The No. 1 pick in the 1972 NBA Draft ended up a four-time All-Star during his eight-year playing career with the 76ers.
“For me, ever since I was two or three years old I’ve been in basketball gyms,” Chris said. “My greatest memories of hanging out with my dad are times being in the gym or in the locker room.”
Doug was not the only member of the 76ers who frequently brought his child to work with him. Chris would often run around the locker room with a young Kobe Bryant, Mike Bibby and former Blue Devil Mike Dunleavy Jr.—together, they were a lethal starting five of NBA pedigree.
But Doug was cautious to keep himself at an arm’s length from Chris’ budding basketball career.
“I did not coach Chris,” Doug said. “I did not want there to be any tension between he and I that basketball could have created. I wanted it to be a joy and I wanted Chris to want me around. I didn’t want him to think that I was constantly critiquing him. I think it’s a mistake that a lot of fathers make.”
But the pair now share more than just a profession and a last name. Thanks to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s involvement with USA basketball, Chris and Doug both have Olympic stories to tell as well.
Doug played for the 1972 Olympic team that lost to the Soviet Union in the gold-medal game in one of the most controversial contests in history. Since then, he has served as a part of the broadcast team for the past two Olympic Games, when Chris has been on the sidelines as a part of Krzyzewski’s coaching staff for teams that took gold in Beijing and London in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
The 76er head coach addressed the team in Las Vegas shortly before they departed for Beijing in 2008, sharing his own Olympic experiences in what both the elder and younger Collins said was an emotional moment for the entire squad.
But no moment was more emotional for the father and son than the one that transpired in 2009, with the Collins clan out to dinner celebrating the Curt Gowdy Media Award Doug received for his work in broadcasting. Little did Doug know, Jerry Colangelo, chariman of USA basketball’s Board of Directors, had replica gold medals made up for the team’s coaches, who do not receive Olympic medals at the Games. With 25 members of his family gathered around the dinner table, Chris had an unexpected surprise for his father.
“Chris stood up and it was probably the most emotional moment I’ve ever had with him,” Doug said. “He reached in his pocket and he said ‘Dad, 37 years too late, but you finally have your gold medal.’ And he put the gold medal around me. I don’t know how much better it can get than that.”
As colleagues in the coaching world, Chris’s relationship with his father only continues to grow. No surprise, the pair’s near-daily conversations normally revolve around basketball.
“Maybe there’s something he might see in what we’re doing at Duke, and he’s always asking me if there are things I think he might be able to do better with his team,” Chris said. “As I’ve gotten older, we’ve been able to lean on each other for advice in coaching, and that is something that has been very special to our relationship.”
Despite their shared expertise, they are content not coaching together at this point in their careers. It was a possibility the pair has visited twice, when Doug was hired as head coach of the Washington Wizards in 2001 and when he took the 76ers job in 2010, but Chris declined his father’s job offers both times.
Both said, however, that they would be open to the idea of coaching together down the road. But Doug would prefer it if his son were the man in charge.
“I think my dream would be for Chris to become a head coach. And I don’t know if it could ever happen, because it might be too much pressure, but I would love to be his assistant,” Doug said.
But for now, Chris remains a Duke assistant, working alongside a host of former Blue Devil guards in Steve Wojciechowski, Jeff Capel and Nate James. Although Chris has received interest for Division I head coaching jobs, he said Duke is where he belongs right now.
Doug had some choice words when discussing the way many college basketball pundits view his son’s decision to remain a Duke assistant when he could probably be a head coach elsewhere.
“Everybody thinks that Chris has an easy job, and it really nauseates me. They think that all Chris has to do is call a kid up on the phone, Duke’s interested in him—they’re going to get him. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” Doug said. “I hear all of these people say ‘Wait until Chris Collins gets his own job and he’ll see what stuff is really like.’ This silver spoon club that they think Chris has been a part of, and the envy and the jealousy is a little much, sometimes, for me to take. Because I know how hard Chris has worked down there are Duke. And there are a lot of Duke-haters, and that’s okay. I will tell you this right now, Chris is a better coach than me.”
Despite the high words of praise from a man who has coached the likes of Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and current budding stars like Jrue Holliday, Chris said he respectfully disagrees, calling his father “as good a coach in the game as there is today.”
Like father, like son.