Nate McMillan of the Indiana Pacers is one of 30 head coaches in the NBA. It is a “dream job,” and 54-year-old McMillan uses “blessed” and “appreciative” when describing his career journey. It is a long way from the neighborhood courts and playing fields of his youth in North Carolina. Even dream careers have challenges and opportunities.
For McMillan, one of the most satisfying elements of his job is when his plan turns into winning games for the team. “I enjoy having the opportunity to look at a team at the beginning of the season, develop a plan and follow a road map. I’m teaching a new group of players every year.
Of course, it feels good when my game plan is executed and the team wins.”
Last season, the Pacers reached the NBA Eastern Conference finals, losing (3-4) to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also enjoys the teaching element of being a coach. One of the challenges of coaching a professional sports team is the impact on family. “I am sure there are times when my wife had to feel like a single parent,” says McMillan, “I have a partner who understands the schedule, hours and responsibilities of being a head coach.” The impact of being a coach even extended to his two children when they were younger.
“Kids will be kids, and when the team lost a game sometimes other children would say things to them about the coaching.” As a family, the McMillans sustained those challenges, and recently his son joined the coaching staff of the Phoenix Suns.
The experiences of his youth have shaped McMillan into the coach he is today. His career influencers and role models included the volunteer coaches from his neighborhood, school and the NBA. McMillan says, “I learned something from everyone who has coached me.” The im portance of coaching and the role a coach plays in a young person’s life is not lost on McMillan. After earning a degree in recreation from North Carolina State University, if he had not been drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1986, McMillan says he would have been working with young people.
“I wanted to work with kids at a community center or teach,” he says. “My early coaches really had an impact on me.”
McMillan reflects on his career, noting how the times have hanged. “When I am driving a d see empty neighborhood ball fields and courts, it is so different from when I was growing up and kids were outdoors playing sports after school and all summer,” he says. “Now I guess they are looking at computer screens.” He explains that more volunteers and funding are needed for youth sports in communities everywhere. Meanwhile, the coach is preparing for another season of Pacers basketball and developing his plan for a championship season.
By Brenda Johnson, Contributing Writer