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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coach Reluctantly Rockets to Celebrity

HOUSTON, Texas -- Rudy Tomjanovich realizes he can't have both the National Basketball Association championship and his privacy. But if the Houston Rockets can win the franchise's first title, he'll figure out a way to deal with the sudden celebrity that comes with coaching success. "I like to go around in shorts and sometimes not shave and things like that, and just be out with the kids," Tomjanovich said. "It embarrasses me when some people make such a show of attention, but I'm not going to hide." At the end of last season, the Rockets coach tried to slip into a hardware store near his home on Lake Conroe. He just wanted to make his purchase and leave. That did not happen. "The speaker system came on and this voice says, 'We have a celebrity in our store. Right now he's in aisle 7, no, he's in aisle 8,'" Tomjanovich said, laughing. His cover blown, Tomjanovich headed for the exit. "I'm still going to favorite restaurants," he said. "It wears on you but it's a positive. It's better than a posse chasing me out of town." The man who didn't want to be an NBA head coach has overcome his reluctance quite well. While his private life has suffered, he has become one of the most admired and recognizable sports personalities in the city. It is a chapter in his basketball career that Tomjanovich could not have imagined. "I thought I'd just hang around for 20 years or so and say, 'Hell, this is embarrassing,' and quit," he said. After a successful 11-year playing career, Tomjanovich settled in with the Rockets for two years as a scout and nine more as an assistant coach, taking him up to the 1991-92 season when the Rockets fired Don Chaney. Former owner Charlie Thomas turned to first assistant Carroll Dawson, who had to decline because he was battling a serious eye injury. Tomjanovich took the job, but agreed only to finish the season. He was comfortable as an assistant and he remembered the advice from former Rockets coach Bill Fitch about the difference. "Fitch used to tell me, 'Boy, that's just a little move from one seat to the other,' but I jumped over two seats," Tomjanovich said. "If you're the first assistant, you might expect something. I was just the second assistant." With Tomjanovich as interim coach, the Rockets finished the season 16-14 and Tomjanovich decided to step out of his comfort zone and give head coaching a chance. The Rockets had a 55-27 record last season that included a 24-17 road record and a 15-game winning streak. He finished second in the Coach of the Year voting to New York's Pat Riley in the closest voting (32-31) in the history of the award. This season, Tomjanovich has taken the Rockets to their third trip to the NBA Finals. He's been a part of all three teams as either a player or coach. Tomjanovich grew up in blue-collar Hamtramck, Michigan, where he learned early he would have to work if he wanted a better life. It wasn't the kind of neighborhood where you would expect a BMW for graduation. He got a basketball scholarship to Michigan, where he averaged 25.1 points per game for his career and, as a senior in 1970, he averaged 30.1. He and Cassie Russell are the only Michigan players to average 30 points for a season. The Rockets drafted Tomjanovich in the first round in 1970, where he averaged 17.4 points per game for his career, third on the Rockets all-time list. Now he is making his mark as the head coach, benefiting from the knowledge of the head coaches he has served. "Fitch gave me the opportunity to edit tapes, do college and advance scouting, scout teams in the playoffs," Tomjanovich said. "By being on the road a lot, I learned a lot about different systems." Tomjanovich has impressed his players with his directness and fairness. They don't always like his decisions, but they respect him.