Motta in 1971
September 3, 1931|
|Listed height||5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
|Listed weight||170 lb (77 kg)|
|High school||Jordan (Sandy, Utah)|
|Career highlights and awards|
John Richard Motta (born September 3, 1931) is a former basketball coach whose career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) spanned 25 years, and he continues to rank among the NBA's all-time top 10 in coaching victories.
- 1 Early coaching career
- 2 NBA coaching career
- 3 Head coaching record
- 4 References
Early coaching career
After graduating from Utah State University, Motta started coaching at Grace, Idaho, where he taught seventh grade and coached for two years before being drafted in the armed services. He once said in an interview that winning the 1959 Idaho state high school championship was his greatest thrill as a coach, even topping the NBA championship he won two decades later.
Motta coached at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah in the 1960s. Under the direction of Motta and assistant coach Phil Johnson, Weber State won three Big Sky championships. The first Big Sky Championship the duo experienced while at Weber State was in 1965.
Motta holds the unique distinction of being one of the very few coaches in the NBA who never played either high school, college or pro basketball.
NBA coaching career
Chicago Bulls (1968–1977)
Motta was hired as head coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1968 after a six-year stint at Weber State University. He replaced Johnny Kerr, who had led the team to two playoff appearances despite suppar records of 33-48 and 29-53, respectively. Motta coached the team for eight seasons, coaching 656 games, which served as nearly a third of his career games coached (1,952). From 1970 to 1974 he led the Bulls to four consecutive seasons of 50 wins or more, winning the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 1971. However this did not translate to playoff success as the Bulls won just one playoff series (doing so in 1974) in that span. However, they advanced to the Conference Finals in the 1974-75 season, beating the Kansas City Kings to play the Golden State Warriors, who beat them in seven games to advance to the finals, where that team won the NBA Finals that year. The following year, the team went 24-58. He resigned on May 28, 1976.
Washington Bullets (1977–1980)
On the same day he left the Bulls, he was hired as head coach of the Washington Bullets. The previous coach had been K. C. Jones, who had led them to a 48-34 record and a loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In his first season, the Bullets went 48-34 while advancing to the Semifinals again after beating the Cavaliers in the First Round, although they lost to the Houston Rockets in six games. The next year was the pinnacle for the team and Motta's career. They went 44-38, but they advanced all the way to the 1978 NBA Finals, where they beat the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games (with the last game in Seattle) to win the NBA championship. The following year, the team went 54-28 while winning the Atlantic Division. This was not only their sixth division title in eight years, it was also their last division title until 2017. The Bullets went to the 1979 NBA Finals, although they had to fight the full seven games in both the Semifinals and the Conference Finals, nearly blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Atlanta Hawks in the former and having to come back from a 3-1 series deficit from the San Antonio Spurs in the latter. In the Finals that year, they played the Seattle SuperSonics once again. The Bullets won Game 1 at home 99–97, but the SuperSonics won the following four games to win the NBA championship. The following year, the Bullets went 39-43, although they qualified for a playoff birth. They were beaten by the Philadelphia 76ers in two games. He resigned as head coach on May 27, 1980.
"The opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings!"
Motta is sometimes erroneously credited with coining the celebrated phrase: The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. In fact, the first recorded use of the phrase was by Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter, as reported in the Dallas Morning News on 10 March 1976.
During a KENS-TV broadcast of the 1978 NBA Eastern Conference semi-finals between the Washington Bullets and the San Antonio Spurs, Cook used the phrase in an attempt to encourage Spurs fans, as their team was down three games to one against the Bullets. Motta heard the broadcast and adopted his own rendition of the expression — "The 'opera' isn't over 'til the fat lady sings" — to warn Bullets fans against braggadocio.
The odds were against the underdog Bullets, and sportswriters were forecasting a grim finale, so Motta rebounded with the upbeat ostinato, "Wait for the fat lady!" The Bullets won the Eastern Conference against the Atlantic Division Champion Philadelphia 76ers, and went on to beat the Western Conference Champion Seattle SuperSonics four games to three for the 1978 NBA title.
The victory gave Washington, D.C. area fans their first professional championship team in any sport since the Washington Redskins won the National Football League title in 1942. (The basketball team played its home games in nearby Landover, Maryland.) In Motta's second year as coach, the Bullets (the Washington "Wizards", as of 1997) had become only the third team to win the NBA championship in a seventh game on the road. That 1978 championship remains the franchise's only NBA championship.
After the climactic Game 7 victory to claim the title, Motta celebrated with his team wearing a beer-soaked The Opera Isn't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings T-shirt.
What made the championship so great was that we weren’t supposed to win it. We came a long way. Most people didn’t give us a chance, but I felt all along we could. I really did. — Dick Motta 
In a Nov. 5, 2003 interview in the Utah Statesman, the student newspaper of his alma mater Utah State University, Motta said opera lovers were angry with him at first. "My wife said they were going to kill me when I said that." But that as time passed, Motta said, he was extended friendly invitations to a variety of events with "operatic" themes ranging from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Dallas Mavericks (1980–1987)
Motta was the first ever head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, hired by the team on July 16, 1980. His first team went 15-67, dead last in the league. They did not lose as many games again until 1992 when they lost 60 games. Motta's Mavericks gradually rose up in prominence, rising in finishes in the Midwest Division from 6th in the first season to 4th by the third year. His fourth season (1983-84) was the start of something big for the team, as they went 43-39 while qualifying for the playoffs for the first time ever. They defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in the First Round to advance to the Semifinals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. In the following year, the Mavs went to the playoffs once again after a 44-38 season, although they lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in the First Round. They went to the Semifinals the following year after a 44-38 year and a beating of the Utah Jazz in the First Round, although it ended with another loss to the Lakers. The next season was Motta's last, and it was his best with the team as they went 55-27 and finished 2nd in the Western Conference, winning their first ever Midwest Division title (the Mavericks did not win a division title again for twenty seasons). However, they lost to the SuperSonics in the First Round in four games. Motta resigned a month after the season ended on May 20.
Sacramento Kings (1990–91)
On January 4, 1990, Motta was hired by the Sacramento Kings in the middle of the season, replacing Jerry Reynolds, who had led the team to a 7-21 record. Motta coached the Kings to a 16-38 record, while the Kings had an ultimate record of 23-59. The next season, the Kings went 25-57 while finishing dead last in the Pacific Division. The same would be true the following year, although Motta was fired after a 7-18 start on Christmas Eve in 1991.
Dallas Mavericks (1994–1996)
On May 17, 1994, Dallas hired him back as coach of the team, replacing Quinn Buckner, who went 13-69. Motta led the team to a 23 game improvement with a 36-46 record. His second and final season went less successful as they went 26-56. He was reassigned from his head coach role on May 1, 1996.
Denver Nuggets (1996–97)
The Denver Nuggets hired Motta on November 26, 1996, replacing Bernie Bickerstaff, who had gotten the team to a 4-9 start. The Nuggets went into a tailspin, going 17-52 while losing 26 of their final 30 games to finish 21-61 and 12th in the Western Conference. Motta was fired on April 21, 1997.
Head coaching record
|Regular season||G||Games coached||W||Games won||L||Games lost||W–L %||Win–loss %|
|Post season||PG||Playoff games||PW||Playoff wins||PL||Playoff losses||PW–L %||Playoff win–loss %|
|Chicago||1968–69||82||33||49||.402||5th in West||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Chicago||1969–70||82||39||43||.476||3rd in West||5||1||4||.200||Lost in Division Semifinals|
|Chicago||1970–71||82||51||31||.622||2nd in Midwest||7||3||4||.429||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Chicago||1971–72||82||57||25||.695||2nd in Midwest||4||0||4||.000||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Chicago||1972–73||82||51||31||.622||2nd in Midwest||7||3||4||.429||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Chicago||1973–74||82||54||28||.659||2nd in Midwest||11||4||7||.364||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|Chicago||1974–75||82||47||35||.573||1st in Midwest||13||7||6||.538||Lost in Conf. Finals|
|Chicago||1975–76||82||24||58||.293||4th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Washington||1976–77||82||48||34||.585||2nd in Central||9||4||5||.444||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Washington||1977–78||82||44||38||.537||2nd in Central||21||14||7||.667||Won NBA Championship|
|Washington||1978–79||82||54||28||.659||1st in Atlantic||19||9||10||.474||Lost in NBA Finals|
|Washington||1979–80||82||39||43||.476||3rd in Atlantic||2||0||2||.000||Lost in First Round|
|Dallas||1980–81||82||15||67||.183||6th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Dallas||1981–82||82||28||54||.341||5th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Dallas||1982–83||82||38||44||.463||4th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Dallas||1983–84||82||43||39||.524||2nd in Midwest||10||4||6||.400||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Dallas||1984–85||82||44||38||.537||3rd in Midwest||4||1||3||.250||Lost in First Round|
|Dallas||1985–86||82||44||38||.537||3rd in Midwest||10||5||5||.500||Lost in Conf. Semifinals|
|Dallas||1986–87||82||55||27||.671||1st in Midwest||4||1||3||.250||Lost in First Round|
|Sacramento||1989–90||54||16||38||.296||7th in Pacific||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Sacramento||1990–91||82||25||57||.305||7th in Pacific||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Dallas||1994–95||61||36||46||.439||5th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Dallas||1995–96||82||26||56||.317||5th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Denver||1996–97||69||17||52||.246||5th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|