Heard, Gar 1948–
Gar Heard 1948–
Professional basketball coach
Gar Heard has always displayed a quiet, old-school work ethic in his career, first as a player and later as a coach in the NBA. Drafted by Seattle in 1970 out of the University of Oklahoma, Heard was once considered one of the NBA’s best rebounders. Representing five different franchises in his 11-year playing career, the 6’7” forward was a formidable defender who took pride in his special ability to block shots without getting into foul trouble. Although he was not an exceptional scorer, Heard was the author of what has come to be known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” a buzzer-beating, high-arching, 20-foot jumpshot for the Phoenix Suns in Game Five of the 1976 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. The shot sent the game into triple overtime, and is considered both a shining moment in the annals of NBA history and the high point of Heard’s career.
Heard has been an NBA coach for many seasons, assisting in Dallas, Indiana, Philadelphia, and Detroit. He was appointed interim head coach in Dallas midway through the 1992–93 season and was hired in June of 1999 as the head coach of the Washington Wizards franchise. Seven months later Michael Jordan, the new manager of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, fired Heard when the lackluster Wizards failed to respond to his leadership. Former Detroit Pistons coach Alvin Gentry echoed popular opinion when he praised Heard to The Washington Times in 1999: “I think his best quality is that he commands instant respect,” Gentry stated. “Not because he’s intimidating or anything, but more his personality. I think he has an air of fairness about him.”
The youngest of four children, Garfield Heard was born May 3, 1948 in Hog-ansville, Georgia. Hogansville is a small farming town of about 4,000 in western Georgia, midway between Columbus and Atlanta. He was raised there by his mother, Charlie Mae Heard, a housekeeper, and his grandparents. His father, Preston Martin, was not involved in Heard’s upbringing. “We didn’t have a lot of money,” Heard told The Washington Times of his childhood, “but we never went hungry, we always had clothes. My mom and my grandparents saw to it that we always went to school. We appreciated what we had.”
Heard was a quiet, but well-liked student at Ethel W. Kight High School. One of Heard’s teachers told Bob Cohn of The Washington Times that Heard “was
Born Garfield Heard on May 3, 1948, in Hogansville, GA; son of Charlie Mae Heard (a housekeeper) and Prestor; Martin; married Kathleen Cline, divorced; children: Kim, laasrneen, Gyasi Avery. Education: Oklahoma University, B.S., 1970.
Career: Professional basketball player; forward, Seattle SuperSonics, 1970–72; Chicago Bulls, 1972–73; Buffalo Braves, 1973–72; Phoenix Suns, 1976–80; San Diego Clippers, 1980–81; volunteer assistant basketball coach, Arizona State University. 1982–83; realtor, Phoenix, Arizona, c. 1984–87; assistant coach, Dallas Mavericks, 1987–93; interim head coach, Dallas Mavericks, 1993; assistant coach, Indiana Pacers, 1993–97; assistant coach. Philadelphia 76ers, 1997–98; assistant coach, Detroit Pistons, 1998–99; head coach, Washington Wizards, 1999–2000.
Awards: All Big Eight Conference: MVP in the Big Eight, 1970; MVP in MarshallUniversity Tournament 1970.
loved by everybody. All he had to do was smile.” Cohn noted that Heard was “known for speaking directly, when he did speak,” and added that he was “never loud or rowdy.” Heard was athletic, and played both football and baseball. He was also a champion sprinter in track while in high school. Heard, however, was a standout in basketball. He played at Kight for Coach Harold Pearson, averaging 29 points and 25 rebounds per game. By his senior year, Heard was drawing the attention of college recruiters. Upon his graduation from Kight in 1966, he accepted a basketball scholarship from the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
While at Oklahoma, Heard was one of only about 300 African American students on campus. Coming from an entirely African American community, this was something of a shock. Heard adjusted to the new environment, however, and enjoyed his time there, “It was a great experience,” he told Cohn. “I wouldn’t mind living through it again.” Under Coach John MacLeod, Heard demonstrated the work ethic at Oklahoma that would help form the basis of his ongoing reputation. According to the Washington Post, “Heard averaged 15.7 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Sooners, leading them in scoring (21.8) and rebounding (12.5) as a senior, when he made All-Big Eight.” Heard was named MVP of the Big Eight during his senior year. In 1970, he became the first in his family to graduate from college.
Heard was drafted in the third round by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1970. He did not play much during his rookie season, but averaged 7.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in his second year with Seattle. He was traded to Chicago early in the 1972–73 season, where his game continued to improve. He averaged 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game during his lone season with the Bulls. At the end of that season, Heard was traded to the Buffalo Braves. In Buffalo, he became a starter for the first time. According to his NBA coaching bio, Heard achieved career highs in almost every category during his first season with Buffalo. He posted an average of 15.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He also had 136 steals and 230 blocked shots. Heard was ranked tenth in the NBA in rebounding and sixth in blocked shots, and helped to lead the Braves to their first-ever playoff appearance. The Braves would go on to lose to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Heard’s second season with Buffalo was successful as well, and the Braves reached the playoffs again. The Braves reached the semifinals, but fell to the Washington Bullets in seven games.
Midway through the 1975–76 season, Heard was traded to the Phoenix Suns. As a result of that trade and some odd scheduling, Heard ended up appearing in a total of 86 games that season. He played in 50 games for Buffalo and in another 36 for Phoenix. Only two other players in NBA history have played in more games in a single season. The 1975–76 season was also memorable because it produced the play that is considered the highlight of Heard’s NBA career. The play, known as “The Shot Heard’Round the World,” is also one of the finest moments in NBA history.
Phoenix finished the 1975–76 season with a 42–40 record, which was good for third place in the Pacific Division. The Suns then upset several teams to reach the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. During Game Five in Boston, time was running out in the second overtime. With the Suns leading by one point, John Havlicek made a 15-foot shot to put the Celtics ahead by one point, with one second remaining. A technical foul pushed the Celtics lead to two, but the referees allowed the ball to be inbounded by Phoenix at half-court. The ball was then passed to Heard, who netted a 20-foot turnaround jumper, tying the game and forcing a third overtime. Boston went on to win the game and the series, but Heard’s shot stunned the crowd and has since stood as one of the finest clutch shots ever made in the NBA. It was chosen by Phoenix fans in 1999 as The Most Memorable Moment in the 30-year history of the Suns. It also figures as a critical factor when many basketball fans argue that Game Five of that series was “The Greatest Game Ever.”
Heard remembered the moment as “not so much wondering if the ball was going in, but did I get the shot off in time.” He told writer Joe Gilmartin in 1998, “It was really a catch-and-shoot situation.” “I did make a few other plays in my career,” he told Gilmartin modestly, “and I don’t really want to be remembered for just one. But if that’s the way it has to be, that’s a good one to be remembered by.” Cohn noted in The Washington Times in 1999 that what Heard himself considers the high point of his career was another moment altogether, “What became the defining moment in his career wasn’t even the defining moment of the playoffs that year. Instead, …[Heard] singles out the prior series against Golden State, when he blocked Jamal Wilkes’ potential game-winning, series-clinching shot to save a victory against the Warriors and keep the Suns alive. ‘If he makes that shot,’ Heard said,’there is no Boston series.’”
Heard’s playing career started its decline beginning with the 1976–77 season. He continued to play for Phoenix until 1980, when he signed as a free agent with the San Diego Clippers. At the end of the 1980–81 season, Heard retired from the NBA. He had played in 787 games spanning 11 seasons and posted career averages of 8.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. He had played on seven playoff teams, and in 59 playoff games. Writer Dave D’Alessandro described Heard in The Sporting News in 1999 as “a player’s player, the kind that Jack Ramsay or John MacLeod knew they could always depend on, and …[he] went about his job with an unflashy gameness—tough, smart, determined, prepared and intimidating.”
For a few years after his retirement, Heard concentrated on other pursuits. He volunteered as an assistant coach for the 1982–83 season at Arizona State University. He worked in real estate in Phoenix and put together a video games business. Heard found that he missed basketball, however, and accepted a position as assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks in 1987. He was happy to work again with Coach John MacLeod, who had been his coach at Oklahoma and again in Phoenix. Heard immediately helped MacLeod guide the Mavericks to the best postseason in their history. Ritchie Adubato became head coach of the club in 1989, and Heard remained as an assistant. When Adubato was fired during the middle of the 1992–93 season, Heard was named interim head coach. The team finished the year a dismal 9–44. When Quinn Buckner took over in Dallas, Heard moved to the Indiana Pacers for the 1993–94 season, serving as assistant to Larry Brown. He helped coach the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals. Remaining with the Pacers for the next four seasons, Heard then rejoined Larry Brown in Philadelphia as an assistant coach to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1997–98. He spent the 1998–99 season with the Detroit Pistons as an to Pistons head coach Alvin Gentry. In mid-1999, Heard accepted the head coaching position with the Washington Wizards.
During the course of his many seasons as an assistant coach, Heard was frequently considered, and then passed over, for head coaching positions. Along with Heard, former NBA greats Isiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Glenn “Doc” Rivers were also being considered for the Washington job. Despite this stiff competition, Heard prevailed. Wizards owner Abe Pollen was very impressed with Heard during his interview, and general manager Wes Unseld stated that Heard’s known strength in communicating with players was a key factor in his selection. On June 15, 1999, Heard signed a three-year contract with an annual payout, according to various reports, of between 1 and 3 million. He replaced coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who had been fired that April. Heard became the 16th head coach in team history, and faced a steep uphill climb with the Wizards. The franchise had not won a playoff game in 11 years.
The Wizards roster included several talented players, including Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond, and Rod Strickland. However, the team lacked cohesiveness, drive, and chemistry, and was wildly inconsistent. Sports Illustrated noted in January of 2000 that Washington had comfortably established itself as “the league’s most underachieving franchise.”
Despite Heard’s best efforts, the Wizards continued to lose. In addition, the Wizards allowed other teams to break losing streaks against them, prompting Heard to comment to the Washington Post that one of the team’s biggest problems was “the relative ease with which it accepts defeat.” By early January of 2000, the team had lost more than two-thirds of its games. Washington Post sportswriter Steve Wyche noted on January 11 that Heard understood and accepted the risks as an NBA coach. “The coach is going to be the scapegoat most of the time,” Heard said. He added, “When you take a job as a coach you know that at some point you’re going to get fired. It happens to everyone…. But I’ve never taken that approach. I came at this job wanting to establish a winning attitude with these guys, to make them competitive every night.”
On January 19, 2000, retired basketball superstar Michael Jordan bought 10 percent of the franchise and became the Wizards’ director of basketball operations. Heard was dismissed as head coach ten days later. Although the decision to fire Heard was Jordan’s, he left the actual announcement to Unseld, who had hired Heard, prompting many to call the dismissal “heartless.”
Heard accepted his termination as part of the job. He commented to the Associated Press on January 30, “You never have a chance to show what you can do…. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the business. I think they had their mind made up when,… [Jordan] got here. I never got an opportunity to talk to him. When you come in you want to bring your own people. Next time things will work better.”
With his strong work ethic and respect for professional basketball, Heard will undoubtedly receive another head coaching opportunity. Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon noted in 1999, “Heard played. He stuck for more than a decade despite being drafted in the third round. He went to the playoffs seven times, played on bad teams, played on a couple of really good teams, played with stiffs and superstars. He’s been there.”
The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Edited by Alex Sachare. New York: Villard Books, 1994.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 12 Edition. Edited by Ashyia N. Henderson and Shirelle Phelps. Detroit: Gale, 1999.
Who’s Who Among Black Americans, 6th Edition. Edited by Iris Cloyd. Detroit: Gale, 1990.
Buffalo News, January 30, 2000.
Sports Illustrated, January 24, 2000, p.66; February 7, 2000, p.52.
The Sporting News, November 8, 1999, p.4.
The Washington Times, June 17, 1999, p.1; October 31, 1999, p.1.
Washington Post, June 16, 1999, p.Dl; June 17, 1999, p.D1, p.D4; January 7, 2000, p.D8; January 11, 2000, p.D1; January 25, 2000, p.A1; January 31, 2000, p.D1.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from http://www.nba.com\suns\00651687.html 1999; http://www.nba.com\wizards\bios\coach.html 1999; http://www.nba.com\wizards\heard_000129.html 1999; and http://www.nbaxom\suns\00651975.html 1999.
—Ellen Dennis French
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