Orlando, Fla. — Stan Van Gundy never wears the championship ring from Miami’s 2006 title. He coached the Heat for the first 21 games that season but can’t say for sure where he put the jewelry.
His best guess is it’s in storage somewhere collecting dust.
“It really does not mean anything,” the Orlando Magic coach said.
“I was not part of that,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t feel a part of that. I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment from that at all.”
Van Gundy walked away from the Heat after a slow start to the 2005-06 season and Pat Riley returned to the sideline to lead Miami to the title.
He arrived in Orlando in 2007 and now has a chance to win a ring that would mean something to him. The Magic begin the finals Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He talks about winning a championship every day,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said. “So really, he deserves the credit for raising the bar, that just getting to the playoffs is not good enough.”
Van Gundy is four wins away from his own championship.
One that he will have earned despite being criticized, questioned and second-guessed perhaps more than any successful coach this season.
Van Gundy’s past (Shaquille O’Neal) and present (Dwight Howard) superstar centers have taken swipes at him. O’Neal called him the “master of panic,” and Howard publicly criticized his coaching strategy.
Van Gundy’s approach is unorthodox by NBA standards.
He doesn’t wear a tie with his jacket. His face is often unshaved and scruffy. He seems to live and die with each play. He’ll cover his face, pull his hair, stomp his foot and scream at players in that high-pitched tone — which Howard loves to mock — for even the smallest detail. Sometimes he’ll do it all on the same play.
“Me and Stan have had our ups and downs, but he is a great motivator,” Howard said. “Even when he’s yelling and screaming, throughout all that, he finds a way to put in just an ounce of something to get us fired up.”
Rafer Alston’s favorite Van Gundy moment this season came in April.
The Magic point guard, who also played a season under Van Gundy in Miami, had a late turnover against Cleveland and was ripped by Van Gundy on the sideline. The Magic were blowing out the Cavaliers.
“I said, ‘What could you possibly be yelling about? We’re up by 40,”’ Alston said, adding that he loves Van Gundy’s passion.
But in the end, Van Gundy’s teams win.
He led Miami to the 2005 Eastern Conference finals and the Magic have won division titles in each of his first two seasons. He has Orlando in the NBA finals for only the second time in franchise history.
Since March 4, 2004, Van Gundy’s record is 198-90 in regular-season games, a winning percentage of .688.