Gordon: Bill Laimbeer leaves lasting legacy with WNBA, Aces

He sat near the baseline on Thursday night instead of the sideline. In a speckled white golf shirt, jeans and sneakers instead of the traditional coach’s outfit. Nary an instruction to a player. A word to an official. Not a single reaction to a blatant call.

Just a celebratory smile after a 93-87 Aces win over the Minnesota Lynx – and a private retirement party afterwards worthy of a special spectator.

“My daughter (Keri) said, ‘Have you ever watched a (WNBA) game live and never been a coach?’ I didn’t remember, he said with a smile.

“I enjoyed today. …because I saw the players play a different style to the one I coached.

That’s all right with Bill Laimbeer.

The 65-year-old is finally done with professional basketball, wrapping up a 19-year coaching career with 306 wins and three WNBA titles. He is retiring as an impeccable advocate for the league and its players. The architect of the championship-caliber team now coached by Becky Hammon.

The Aces honored their first coach by welcoming him and his family Thursday with a pre-game tribute and nods on the video board throughout the four quarters.

And then with tributary lyrics.

“He did a lot for women’s basketball. He’s been in the game for a long time,” Aces point guard Chelsea Gray said. “He’s been a defender of women since he’s been in this league and that’s what I appreciate so much about him.

“That’s part of the reason I came here. I saw how he treated his players.

Support the players

Laimbeer played 15 seasons in the NBA and never forgot what it meant to be a player. There are no coaches without players, he said.

Their experience has always been his goal as a coach.

He sought to provide a structure that would amplify their talents – and lead to championships in 2003, 2006 and 2008 with the defunct Detroit Shock. But he stepped aside when he saw fit, deferring to his leaders and supporting them on and off the basketball court.

This was never more evident than during the 2020 season, when the WNBA was confined to the IMG Academy campus amid COVID-19 and the unjust killing of George Floyd. WNBA players were among America’s most prominent anti-racism and social justice activists.

Laimbeer supported their advocacy and embraced their efforts.

“Sometimes it’s hard for us as African American women, it’s hard to get a seat at the table,” said Aces forward A’ja Wilson. “But when someone of Bill’s stature sits there and takes a stand with us, it means a lot. That says a lot.

make a mark

The same goes for his return to training: eight places in the semi-finals, five places in the final, three championships and nine seasons of 20 victories.

MGM Resorts International named him the inaugural coach and general manager of the Aces after acquiring the franchise in 2017. He helped the league’s worst team reach the WNBA Finals three years later, creating a lasting contender.

He acknowledged Thursday that a coaching style based on solid low-post play is dated and stressed the need for a new voice.

“My style got us to a point. He didn’t win. We got closer. I didn’t win,” Laimbeer said. “I probably couldn’t change my philosophy of how I do business.

“It was very important that I step away because it had to evolve.”

Alas, the evolution under Hammon has begun and the Aces already have a 5-1 record to show for it.

They’re laying the floor now, playing with pace and shooting more 3-pointers than ever before. Laimbeer plays golf and fishes now, bouncing between homes in Florida and Michigan, supporting the league he loves from afar.

Or from the baseline.

“Setting the direction is the thing I’m most proud of in this franchise,” Laimbeer said. “I know the players understand that. The franchise understands this. And I think it’s going to be the WNBA’s most incredible franchise for years to come. »

It certainly wouldn’t be without him.

Contact Sam Gordon at [email protected] To follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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