Gentry, Alvin 1954–
Alvin Gentry 1954–
Professional basketball coach
Early in his first full season as head coach of pro basketball’s Detroit Pistons, Alvin Gentry faced a crisis. The perennial championship-level team had missed the playoffs the previous year, and things seemed to be getting worse. The Pistons lost five games in a row. Team members Jerry Stackhouse and Grant Hill bickered publicly over ball control, and center Bison Dele lamented his lost “energy.” For a newly hired coach, it seemed like a nightmarish situation.
Gentry kept his cool, however, and the Pistons went on the make the postseason playoffs. The Detroit News dubbed him “Gentry the Stabilizer,” and quoted this evaluation of the new coach from assistant coach John Hammond: “The one thing about Alvin is he is a real positive person. We went through some tough times and it would have been very easy for a coach to overreact. That is one of his strengths.” Gentry had learned patience and perseverence during a lifetime spent involved with the game of basketball.
Gentry was born in Shelby, North Carolina, on November 5, 1954. His father, a fiber-industry factory worker, once went eleven years without missing a day of work. The Gentry family numbered six children and two adults in a three-bedroom house, but the home environment was close and supportive. Gentry told the Detroit Free Press, “I don’t have one of those kind of heartache stories to tell. There was always all kinds of lovin’ in my house.” The Gentrys valued education highly. As a student, Gentry showed an aptitude for mathematics, and his older sister Loretta went on to become a senior analyst for the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C.
Gentry graduated from Shelby High School, and attended Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. In 1977, he graduated with a degree in management. He played varsity basketball for all four years of college, starting in over 20 games during his freshman, junior, and senior years and scoring a total of 489 points over a four-year span. Following graduation from college, Gentry went to Denver for a tryout with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. However, he failed to make the cut. During the 1977-78 college season, Gentry began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Colorado.
Born November 5, 1954, in Shelby, North Carolina; son of B. H. Gentry (a fiber worker) and Bulah Gentry; married twice; second wife’s name Suzanne; two children, Alexis (by first marriage) and Ryan, Education: Graduated with management degree from Appalachian State University, 1977; attended graduate school at the University of Colorado.
Career: Professional basketball coach, Graduate assistant, University of Colorado, 1977-78; assistant coach, Baylor University, 1980-81; assistant coach, University of Colorado, 1981-85; assistant coach, University of Kansas, 1985-88; assistant coach, San Antonio Spurs, 1988-90; assistant coach, Los Angeles Clippers, 1990-91; assistant coach, Miami Heat, 1991-95, interim head coach, 1995; assistant coach, Detroit Pistons, 1995-98, interim head coach, 1998, head coach, 1998-.
Addresses: Office —c/o Detroit Pistons, 2 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326.
In 1980, Gentry landed a job as an assistant coach at Baylor University. He returned to Colorado the following year, and remained there as an assistant coach through 1985. From 1985 through 1988, he served as an assistant coach at the University of Kansas. Ironically the coach at Kansas, Larry Brown, was the same person who had cut Gentry during his tryout with the Denver Nuggets. In 1988, after Kansas won the NCAA championship, Brown left the university for a head coaching position with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. He quickly hired Gentry as his assistant coach. Gentry eventually moved on to assistant coaching positions with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1990, and the Miami Heat in 1991.
Gentry remained as an assistant to Heat coach Kevin Loughery into the 1994-95 season. With 36 games left in the season, Loughery was fired and Gentry was hired as interim head coach. The Heat went 15-21 under Gentry, missed the playoffs, and Gentry was fired at the season’s end. Some criticized Gentry for not being tough enough on his players, but many Heat players defended him. African American coaches are a rarity in the NBA, and the issue of race hung over Gentry’s short tenure as head coach. Heat forward Keith Askins chided his teammates in Sports Illustrated, “All we’ve been saying in this league is that there aren’t enough black coaches. The majority of this team is black guys, and they can’t even play for a black coach?”
The Detroit Pistons hired Gentry as an assistant coach for the 1995-96 season. Until February of 1998, Gentry served under Pistons head coach Doug Collins, whose fiery, unpredictable personality was the direct opposite of Gentry’s. When the Pistons hit the skids that spring, Collins was fired. Gentry seemed a natural replacement, and he took over the team as interim head coach on February 2. In the last 37 games of the season, the Pistons compiled a record of 16-21 and missed the NBA playoffs.
At the end of the season, the Pistons considered several candidates for the permanent head coaching position. As he had in Miami, Gentry enjoyed the support of his players. Star players Joe Dumars and Grant Hill expressed their hopes that Gentry would get the job. In May of 1998, the Pistons named Gentry as their new head coach. He was signed to a two-year contract worth an estimated $ 1 million a year, plus incentives that could bring the figure to double that or even higher.
Gentry’s tenure as head coach got off to a rocky start during the 1998-99 season. Over the course of the season, the Pistons lost a total of 126 man-hours to injuries, and several of the team’s established stars had substandard years. Gentry continued plugging away, and he earned the admiration of his players when he defended them against criticism in the press. The Pistons were eventually able to turn their season around and made the playoffs. However, the Atlanta Hawks eliminated them in the first round.
Going into his second season as head coach in the fall of 1999, Gentry had to deal with the constant awareness that he had only one year left on his contract. With the Pistons returning to the playoffs for the first time in several years, expectations for greater improvement were heightened. Gentry faced these challenges with characteristic aplomb. “One of the things I never worry about, from my standpoint, is my job,” he told the Detroit News. “I really don’t. I have to do whatever I feel is best for this team and the rest is out of my hands.”
Bonavita, Mark, et al., eds., The Sporting News Official NBA Register: 1998-99 Edition, The Sporting News, 1998.
Austin American Statesman, April 27, 1999, p. C7.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 29, 1998, p. 124.
Detroit Free Press, April 29, 1998, p. D1; May 8, 1998, p. C1.
Detroit News, February 3, 1998, p. E5; April 19, 1998, p. D1; April 29, 1998, pp. D1, D3; May 7, 1999, p. F1; September 15, 1999, p. D1.
Jet, March 6, 1995, p. 46; May 22, 1995, p. 51.
Sports Illustrated, May 8, 1995, p. 76.
—James M. Manheim
"Gentry, Alvin 1954–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gentry-alvin-1954
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