Delmer “Del” Harris: Prolific Leader from Plainfield, Indiana

Plainfield, Indiana is a fairly small suburb of Indianapolis, but it does have a few claims to fame. While actor Forrest Tucker is probably the more famous of the two throughout the United States, basketball coach Delmer “Del” Harris can also claim a spot on the roster of notable residents of Plainfield, Indiana and is perhaps more well known among native Hoosiers. Born on June 18, 1937 in Plainfield, Harris left Central Indiana to attend Milligan College in Tennessee, where he began his basketball career. While at Milligan, Harris’ prowess on the court earned him an induction to the Milligan College Athletic Hall of Fame. After his graduation with a degree in religion in 1959, Harris returned to Indiana to attend Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he earned his master’s degree in history in 1965.

Video of Plainfield, Indiana native Delmer “Del” Harris throwing an accidental pick during the 1991 NBA Finals


But Del Harris’ future didn’t lie in either of his degrees; instead, he chose to coach basketball, starting in Richmond, Indiana as a coach for Earlham College. Under Harris’ guidance, Earlham established 176 victories on its way to a school record and three conference championships (the first three in Earlham history). By 1969, Harris had left the United States and journeyed to Puerto Rico, where he coached for seven seasons in the National Superior League, won three championships, and and posted a 176-61 record. In 1975, Harris returned to America and joined the pros: he became an assistant coach for the ABA’s Utah Stars. After the Stars folded, Harris soon became the head coach of the Houston Rockets, where he experienced his first taste of the playoffs. Harris was a boon to the Rockets; he led the team to the playoffs each of his first three years of head coaching, including an appearance (and subsequent loss to the Boston Celtics) in the 1981 NBA Finals.

Video highlights for the Houston Rockets during the 1981 NBA Finals run when they were coached by Plainfield, Indiana resident Delmer “Del” Harris

When Harris’ time with the Rockets was finished, he became an assistant coach and scout for the Milwaukee Bucks, a post that eventually led to his promotion as head coach of the Bucks in 1987. Again Harris showed the NBA what he was capable of; Del Harris is the only coach in Bucks history to bring the team to four consecutive playoff appearances, which he did in his first four years as head coach. Along the way, he amassed an impressive 191-154 record with the team. Del Harris‘ highest accolades would come during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he joined after his time with the Bucks. Harris was named NBA Coach of the Year in the 1994 – 1995 season for his role in turning the Lakers from a no chance lottery team to a solid playoff contender. His team’s iron clad defense and lightning offense (the Lakers lead the league in scoring throughout Harris’ last three years with the team) allowed him to become one of only two coaches in Los Angeles history to rack up three consecutive wins of over 50 points in a season. Del Harris’ best record as head coach, 218-110, was achieved when he was theĀ  coach of the Lakers.

Despite his successes with the team, Harris was fired by the Lakers in the beginning of the 1998 – 1999 season. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the coach was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks, where he became an assistant coach. Harris was voted the top NBA assistant coach for three years and amassed a 355 – 157 record in Dallas. He lasted as an assistant coach to the Mavericks until 2007, and he spent a brief period as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls in 2008. After fifty years of top notch basketball leadership, Del Harris announced his retirement in 2009.

Video of Plainfield, Indiana resident Del Harris sharing stories about his time coaching Yao Ming during the 2004 Olympic Games at a roast and toast of Ming

Aside from his accomplishments in the NBA, this famous Plainfield resident has a wealth of other achievements, both on and off the court. Harris was an adviser for the Canada National Team for the 1994 World Games, an assistant coach for the U.S. National Team in the 1998 World Games, and the coach of the National Team of China in the 2004 Olympic Games (where he coached Yao Ming), who he led to an upset over former World Champion Serbia. A prolific writer and journalist, Del Harris is the author many books and magazine articles, including Coaching Basketball’s Zone Offense and Winning Defense. The coach even appeared in the movies Space Jam and Diagnosis Murder. A member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame, the Milligan College Hall of Fame, and the Earlham College Hall of Fame, Del Harris has more than earned the awards in his trophy case. One of the winningest coaches in NBA history, Delmer Harris finished his NBA career with 556 wins to 457 losses, one of only 20 coaches in league history to notch 500 victories in their belt. Not bad for a small town Hoosier, eh?

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