Brazilian sojourn: LeBron James attends a promotional event at Phenom House, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday. Photo: AP
Las Vegas: Two months ago, David Blatt was on top of the world when led undermanned Maccabi Tel Aviv to stunning upsets over CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid for the Euroleague championship.
Three weeks ago, he was on top of the world when the Cleveland Cavaliers hired him as head coach, making him the first European-based person to get a head coaching job in the NBA.
Three days ago, he was on top of the world when NBA superstar LeBron James announced he would return to Cleveland and play for the Cavaliers. "I've been parachuting from mountain top to mountain top in the last two months," Blatt told USA TODAY Sports.
Dream job: David Blatt will have an improved roster at Cleveland in his rookie season. Photo: Getty Images
So, who is David Blatt? Who is the man who is going to coach the LeBron James?
Born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1959, Blatt is regarded as one the best basketball minds in the world. His journey from Framingham to Cleveland is remarkable and compelling, knocking down barriers along the way.
Blatt played at Princeton for legendary coach Pete Carril and embarked on a professional basketball career in Israel and then began coaching career in Israel in 1993. He remained in Europe coaching in Israel, Russia, Italy, Turkey and Greece until the Cavs hired him.
"The Cavaliers are getting a guy who is one of the most creative coaching minds in the world," ESPN analyst and international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla said. "Most of the things that made him an incredibly successful in Europe will translate to the NBA.His styles of play have varied based on the type of talent he has had."
It was that basketball mind that got the Cavaliers' attention. That is what they were looking for to lead a team that is desperately trying to become competitive again.
"More than anything else, the thing that spoke to us about David is his mind for the game," Cavaliers general manager David Griffin said. "He's unique. People said the hire's outside of the box. Dave is an innovator and he's somebody who's not afraid to try new things and he's somebody who has such a thorough understanding of the game from Xs and Os standpoint and human element, it was a perfect blend for us."
Even as a teen, he had a worldly view. He played sports, but also participated in the choir and student government in high school, and at Princeton he studied English literature.
"I didn't grow up in a nuclear family but I was always surrounded by really good people who influenced me and then I met and became attached to different situations from different facets of life," Blatt said. "I did a lot of different things and was always finding myself in different environments and it's something I came to be comfortable with and that I liked."
It allowed him to follow an unconventional path.
"When it came for me to make life decisions and go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do, I really had no fear about it. Most of the time if people don't do something out of the ordinary, it's because they're afraid to and they don't have a comfort level with. That's OK. That's natural. I just never had that."
In 2004, Blatt took a job in St. Petersburg, Russia -- a bold move by Russian basketball officials. He was the first American basketball coach to lead a Russian team, and it wasn't received well.
"Initially, I wasn't easily accepted neither by the public at large or the basketball world in particular," Blatt said.
American, Israeli, Jewish -- you could see how might not fly in Russia.
Then Russian basketball federation officials made another bold move. Sergei Tarakanov and Sergey Chernov named Blatt the coach of the national team in 2006.
"It had never been done," Blatt said, calling Tarakanov and Chernov courageous for making that decision. "There was a good deal of antagonism about the decision."
But in 2007, Blatt led Russia to the Eurobasket championship and he helped Russia win bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
"One of the easiest ways to get into the hearts of any people, in particular Russia, is to have success. Which we did," Blatt said. "Then it turned totally in the other direction because Russia loves heroes and loves success."
Blatt had won over Russia, had established himself an excellent coach and began drawing interest from NBA teams. But that interest was tepid.
In in the hours after Blatt won the Euroleague title in May, he told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail that he had interest in coaching in the NBA but also said, "Obviously someone has to want you. But no doubt in my mind I could do the job."
At the same time, Blatt had no pressing desire to leave Europe and coach in the NBA. He was happy, well-compensated and enjoyed coaching overseas.
"I didn't need to leave and didn't need to see myself in the USA TODAY or ESPN every day. It just wasn't that important to me," Blatt said. "I didn't feel like I had to validate who I am or what I've done only by the standards on this side of the Atlantic.
"I was leading a great life that not many people have a chance to lead. I didn't really have offers that were significant enough for me to consider walking away from all of that."
But that the Euroleague title re-ignited NBA interest in Blatt. The Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Cavaliers were interested in top jobs or lead assistant positions.
When NBA coaches and executives began seriously considering Blatt for top-level jobs -- whether as head coach or lead assistant -- they kept hearing similar words: smart, humble, hard-working, prepared, creative, masterful at in-game adjustments and an excellent communicator.
On the offensive end, Blatt espouses this philosophy: "Basketball is a game of motion and of cutting and of screening and sacrificing yourself for the next guy and being a team that takes good shots and the right shots," he said. Defensively, Blatt likes to use multiple defenses but will need to adjust to NBA rules.
Fraschilla said he can't wait to see how Blatt uses James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and the rest of the roster. Fraschilla said Blatt's offensive system is reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs, which has to sound appealing to James, who noted during the Finals how much he admired the Spurs' offense.
Blatt uses pick-and-roll sets with plenty of movement that keeps the defense guessing.
"His greatest challenge is not going to be relating to LeBron, it's going to be how he creative uses the greatest player in the world for maximum advantage," Fraschilla said. "David is one of the great coaches at moving all the pieces around on the chessboard and all of sudden a LeBron or Kyrie will be in space."
Blatt knows the addition of James creates exponentially more possibilities, but he hasn't had the time to dig into those possibilities.
"It's going be fun thinking about it and finding the answers to it," he said.
He has exchanged text messages with James and will talk more when James settles in in Ohio.
Now, Blatt is the flagbearer for all international coaches who want a head-coaching job in the NBA.
"I do feel a great sense of responsibility about that because although I'm not fully one of them, they are all a part of me. I feel responsibility. Pressure? No. I don't feel pressure," Blatt said. "But a lot of responsibility yes and honestly a lot of pride that I was the one who was chosen. I feel like I've got to do a good job." ---