The announcement fell in between the Warriors and the rival Celtics advancing to the 2022 NBA Finals, but the Lakers have finally hired their new coach.
Former Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham was offered the job last week and since the news broke, many players have shared their excitement on the news.
Two-time MVP Giannis Anteokounmpo shared his excitement, as did Lakers’ superstar LeBron James.
Some fans are unsatisfied with the hire, believing that the Lakers job, especially with it’s current roster, is too high-profile of a position for a first-time head coach.
However, Ham has what none of the other final three candidates for the job had: experience as a player in the NBA.
Ham played in the NBA from 1996 to 2005, with the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, and Detroit Pistons. He won a championship with the latter in 2004, ironically defeating the Shaq and Kobe Lakers in the Finals.
Ham also has experience with the Lakers organization. After working as an assistant and head coach in the NBA D-League, he was an assistant under Mike Brown with the Lakers from 2011 to 2013. Since then he’s worked under Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich protégé, in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Here are five fun facts about Ham:
He was shot in the jaw at 14
Ham grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. At the time, Saginaw, Detroit, and Flint had the highest violent crime rates in the state. He was raised in a blue-collar family with their home located directly behind a liquor store and nightclub. Growing up, Ham heard parties, gunshots, and fights on a nightly basis. But none of those experiences prepared him for what would happen when he was 14 years old.
On April 5, 1988, Ham and his brother went out for a pizza. As they drove out of a nearby parking lot to turn onto their street, they heard gunshots and suddenly found themselves in the middle of a crossfire. Ham remembers a guy running towards their car, with three others following and shooting at him. Ham was shot in the jaw, and the bullet got lodged in the back of his neck.
Ham was operated on and the doctor was able to successfully remove the bullet, eventually handing it to Ham, telling him how lucky he was to still be alive.
“I could have been dead so easily,” Ham told reporters back in 2011. “It set a foundation in me to never take anything for granted. So I’m not afraid of failure, or success. I’m only afraid of not being authentic.”
He was a football player in high school
Ham played football in high school and never really took basketball seriously. As a freshman he was 5-feet, 9-inches tall. But by the time he was a senior, he had grown nearly a foot to 6-feet, 7-inches.
“My transition from football to basketball had a lot to do with my growth spurt,” Ham told the media in 2011. “I got taller, but not heavier. I was very skinny during my senior year so I decided to give up football.”
Ham only played one year of basketball in high school, but it was enough to get him a scholarship to play at Texas Tech University in 1993.
Sports Illustrated Cover
While at Texas Tech, Ham gained national notoriety when he threw down a thundering dunk during the 1996 NCAA Tournament against the North Carolina Tar Heels that shattered the backboard. The dunk shifted the momentum of the game and carried the Red Raiders passed the Tar Heels and into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history. Later that week, Sports Illustrated featured Ham and the dunk on the cover of their magazine with the headline “Smashing!”
Undrafted, but not deterred
In the summer of 1995, Ham went to go play pick up ball in Houston with his former roommate Mark Davis. According to Ham, many NBA players would show up to play pick-up basketball including Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Nick Van Exel, Kenny Smith, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Moses Malone. Ham said he wanted to guard all of these legendary players in order to prove he could play in the NBA. However, he went undrafted in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Ham had a son while he was in high school and needed to provide for his family, so he joined the Jacksonville Barracudas of the United States Basketball League after the draft. His team won the USBL championship and it got him an invite to the Denver Nuggets Summer League team where he eventually made the team for the 1996-97 season.
“I was playing basketball and trying to succeed for a whole different reason than most,” said Ham in 2011. “I had to feed my kid. I wasn’t worried about the spoils of basketball.”
Avery Johnson Convinced Him to Become a Coach
Former San Antonio Spurs point guard Avery Johnson was in the middle of his first head coaching job in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks in 2007. Ham was part of the Mavericks that year during training camp, but he was surprisingly but by the team just before the season began. Initially, he figured he would just become a free agent and sign with another team, but Johnson had other plans in mind for Ham.
Johnson noticed that during training camp Ham had been working and mentoring a lot of the younger players on the Mavericks. Instead of continuing in the NBA, Johnson convinced Ham to try his hand at coaching. A few months later, Ham was hired as an assistant by the New Mexico Thunderbirds and his coaching career began.
He would eventually become the head coach of the Thunderbirds before his old friend Mike Brown hired him as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011.
“I fell in love with it,” said Ham of coaching. “being that close to the game without playing suited me just fine.”