Chemeketa Community College gave him a start in coaching, and the NBA coach paid it back with a long-running benefit golf tournament to raise money for basketball scholarships
SALEM, Or. — Through head coaching jobs for five NBA teams, two trips to the NBA Finals and more than 1,000 victories, Rick Adelman always remembered where his career began.
That place was Chemeketa Community College in Salem, which in 1977 hired Adelman to serve as its men’s basketball coach, among other duties. Adelman had played seven years in the NBA, including three with the Portland Trail Blazers, and was working as a shoe rep for Converse in southern California.
He was 31 and Chemeketa was his first coaching job at any level and it didn’t pay much. He rode buses on road trips, made tight budgets stretch to capacity, worked in the counseling department to recruit students, eventually taught physical education classes and was touched by the stories of hard-working young athletes trying to prove themselves in sport and in the classroom.
Adelman also forged lasting friendships, and after he became the head coach of the Trail Blazers in 1989, he agreed to lend his name and his participation to a golf tournament to benefit the Chemeketa basketball program.
The 28th and final version of the Adelman Golf Classic took place August 7 at Illahe Hills Country Club. Over the years, Adelman never missed a tournament, and never failed to affably entertain participants and sponsors with NBA stories during the post-golf luncheon.
The first 27 versions of that tournament raised more than $100,000 for scholarships for 104 basketball players, men and women. The Rick Adelman Scholarship began as a benefit for a single men’s and women’s player; by 2005, it was financing six nine-months scholarships per year, three for men, three for women, currently valued at $4,500 each per school year.
“He has left a big legacy,” said Nancy Duncan, executive director of the school’s foundation.
In 1977, Adelman and his wife Mary Kay were visiting friends in Oregon when then-Linfield College coach Ted Wilson recommended that Chemeketa interview him for its vacant coaching position. In his six years at Chemeketa, Adelman’s teams went 141-39 and won or shared three league titles and a regional title.
“He learned a lot about coaching,” said Jerry Berger, who as dean of students was on the committee that hired Adelman and then served as school president from 1992 through 2001 — and who has introduced Adelman, with humor, at every one of the annual tournaments. “He took this group of students and helped them grow. He learned a lot about personalities. He loved Chemeketa.”
Adelman remembers the tight budgets, low salaries and the effort of the players.
“The kids were the ones who really wanted to play,” Adelman said. “In two years at community college, you find out where you belong, the level you can play at. So we had guys who were willing to work hard and find out what they could do.”
In 1983, Adelman was named assistant coach at the Trail Blazers, and in 1989 became interim head coach, replacing Jack Ramsay, and then head coach. A year later the tournament started.
“Right now, I couldn’t tell you whose idea it was,” Adelman said. “I knew when I was there it was always hard. I thought if we could put something together where the coach can have a chance to recruit some kids and give a couple scholarships out it would help them in the long run.
“I had no idea it would go on as long as it’s gone on. It’s been really good for the school. They’ve raised a lot of money.”
As Adelman became an NBA coaching mainstay the tournament drew full fields of fivesomes for the scramble format and loyal sponsors.
“It’s been an institution in Salem,” Berger said. “We probably have 30 or 35 people who have played in every tournament.”
Including the namesake; through his five stops in the NBA, with the Blazers, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and finally Minnesota until his retirement after the 2015 season, Adelman never failed to attend the fund-raiser.
The golf was fun, but the main attraction was Adelman’s candor during his luncheon talk and the ensuing question-and-answer session. That reality, and the fact that he’s out of the NBA now, led Adelman, 71, to conclude that a tournament built around him had run its course. Rick and Mary Kay live in the Portland area, where most of their six children and 12 grandchildren live, and there are kids games to watch all year around now.
“I’ve been out of it for three years, and the league has changed so much, I thought it wouldn’t be as interesting as when I had that connection to the league,” Adelman said “I’m not sure how much draw I am any more. I thought maybe it’s time.”
The Adelman Golf Classic has reached its conclusion. At Chemeketa, its impact is enduring.
This story originally appeared in the August 2017 edition of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.