Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt recently announced through a statement on Greek club Olympiakos’s website that he is in the fight for his life. Blatt, who spent a little longer than a year as an NBA head coach, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a condition which targets the nervous system and can make its victims weak, fatigued, and unbalanced.
Blatt’s announcement was positive, considering the news that it was. The 60-year-old shared that he wasn’t going to let the condition stop him from doing what he loves to do.
“I am a coach,” Blatt said in his statement per ESPN, “and my job is to lead and teach and inspire a lot of people. Not being as agile or active doesn’t affect my ability to do those things.”
Whether or not it will make his job harder, it would be easy for Blatt to let the condition take over his life, but he is choosing not to dwell on the negative implications, instead commenting on the positives that abound in his life.
“How could I possibly complain?” Blatt said. “I absolutely cannot and will not. It’s wasted effort and while I ask my players and staff to be the best version of themselves, I must ask and even demand from myself to do the same.”
It is that sort of fight that has made Blatt a storied coach in international basketball, and while his NBA stint was short, it helped him lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.
Blatt’s international career
Blatt has been coaching for over 25 years. Although he is American, his basketball career has mostly happened overseas. After going undrafted in 1981, Blatt decided to play basketball overseas. That career lasted for 12 years. After hanging up his shoes, Blatt decided to pivot into the role of a coach.
Blatt’s accolades as an international coach run deep. He coached the 2012 bronze medal Russian basketball team. He has also won championships in the Italian league, the Adriatic League, the Israeli Super League, and the EuroLeague. His 2014 EuroLeague championship was enough to get the attention of the Cleveland Cavaliers, although the team that Blatt ended up coaching was a far cry from the one he signed up for.
The Cleveland Cavaliers that Blatt signed up to coach were expected to be a young core of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and upcoming rookie and first-pick in the NBA draft Andrew Wiggins. Instead, it ended up having a returning LeBron James and Kevin Love, who the team traded Wiggins for after learning about James’s return.
Immediately, it was not an easy job. Dion Waiters notoriously did not think that he belonged on the bench and was quickly traded, for example. Add this to the fact that LeBron James has a history of either not getting along with his coaches or wanting his own guys in the job, and the odds were stacked against Blatt.
Blatt made an immediate impact, and the Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals, where they were unable to overcome injuries to both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving as they faced the Golden State Warriors. Although they fell in a hard-fought battle, things were looking up. Blatt began the 2015-16 season by winning Coach of the Month for the month of November. By the end of January, however, Blatt was fired despite a 30-11 record.
Fallout and aftermath
It was reported that Blatt was believed to try to too hard to get in the good graces of his team rather than coach them to their best abilities. This caused players who weren’t in the Cavs’ big three to feel alienated and frustrated, and despite his efforts to do so, he never won over James, either. Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle famously said that the move was embarrassing, although the Cavaliers would do just fine without him, winning the ring that same year.
Despite his setbacks on and off the court, Blatt remains a beloved coach overseas, and perhaps it is where he’s meant to be in his career.