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Former Cavs coach and longtime Clevelander Mike Fratello receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Mike Fratello
Terry Pluto
/
Cleveland.com
Mike Fratello, in his suburban Cleveland home, shows a plaque honoring his father Vincent Fratello, who was a Golden Gloves boxer who later turned pro.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello is receiving the NBA’s Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. The winner each year is selected by the NBA Coaches Association.

Fratello, 75, has been involved in the NBA for more than 40 years, including six seasons with the Cavs beginning in 1993.

Our sports commentator Terry Pluto says Fratello took an unconventional path to the NBA.

"He was the head coach in Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis, but more people know him doing ESPN and network basketball games for many years as an analyst with Marv Albert than they do that," Pluto said.

New Jersey roots

Pluto says Fratello had a modest upbringing in Hackensack, New Jersey. His dad was a Golden Gloves boxer nicknamed "The Hackensack Hurricane."

"After World War II, [his dad] came home and opened Vincent’s Luncheonette. Mike Fratello said, 'Four booths, 13 stools. I was behind the cash register.' That's where he grew up, very humble Italian-American beginnings," Pluto said.

The 5-foot-7-inch Fratello was playing high school basketball and went on to Montclair State. Pluto said he had dreams of becoming high school basketball coach. Instead, he went to the NBA.

A meeting that led to the NBA

Pluto said Fratello was in high school when he met a New Jersey basketball coach at the time, Hubie Brown. Brown was involved in Five-Star Camp based in Pennsylvania from 1966 to 2008. It brought in all of the top high school players and coaches from around the country. The two became friends, and Brown invited Fratello to the camp.

"They're now coaching the best high school players in the country and being watched by a lot of college coaches. And suddenly what happens is, Hubie Brown gets a college coaching job. [Then], Mike Fratello gets a college coaching job. Chuck Daly, who the award is named after, he was in that group. Then when they got to the NBA, frankly, they start hiring each other. So that's how Mike Fratello, at at five-foot-seven, 150-pounds — whatever he was coaching, whatever team it was, you would have sworn he should have been a guy handing somebody a towel, not in the middle of a huddle, yelling at these taller guys," Pluto said.

"You would have sworn he should have been a guy handing somebody a towel, not in the middle of a huddle, yelling at these taller guys."
Terry Pluto

An underrated coach

And Pluto says Fratello was an underrated coach.

"And it isn't just that he got to the NBA because he was friends with Hubie Brown, but he lasted seven years in Atlanta and six years in Cleveland," Pluto said. "And he only had one superstar in his prime, Dominique Wilkins in Atlanta."

Pluto says the 1997-98 Cavs under Mike Fratello was the last team to make the playoffs [excluding this year's play-in] without LeBron James.

Fratello had a career 667-548 record (.549) and only four losing seasons in his 16 years as a head coach.

Still a Clevelander

Pluto said Fratello lived in an apartment when he first started coaching the Cavs in 1993. He liked the city so much he bought a house in a nearby suburb in 1996.

"In 1999, he gets fired, that's how it works in the NBA. He goes back in broadcasting. And the house he bought in '96 is where he still is today. And even when he went to coach Memphis for a couple of years, he basically just had an apartment there and stayed in Cleveland," Pluto said.

Fratello has done extensive work as an NBA TV analyst and commentator. In addition to NBC, TNT, and NBA TV, Fratello has worked for several regional networks covering the Cavaliers, Clippers, Heat, Nets and Pistons.