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Jon Krawczynski / AP Sports Writer, Published April 04 2013

Timberwolves' Adelman approaches rare 1,000-win club

Minneapolis - Rick Adelman’s path to 1,000 career coaching victories didn’t begin when he was thrust into the interim head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989.

It started on a snowy night in Denver some 30 years ago, a few hours after the Blazers lost to the Nuggets. Adelman was an assistant under Jack Ramsay then, and the championship-winning head coach was distraught after watching his team drop the game.

“I still remember Jack Ramsay, walking with him for like five miles in Denver when it was cold and snowing,” Adelman said. “He just wanted to walk. I’ve never seen a guy so down. The next day he was at the airport like nothing had happened. He was slapping players on the back, talking to them real positive. I thought, ‘Boy, he was really so down last night.’ ”

Adelman made a habit out of accompanying Ramsay on his post-loss walks. There wasn’t much conversation involved, which won’t come as a surprise to those who know Adelman well.

“Sometimes after games I would go by myself,” Ramsay said. “Then Rick started to tag along. We didn’t talk a lot. We got it out of the air so that the next day everything was on a more upbeat basis. That’s important for a coach.”

It was on those walks that Adelman learned how to process the losing that inevitably comes in the NBA, how to manage the disappointment and move on to the next game, which may be as big a part of his success and survival as a head coach as his famed corner offense. His understated demeanor and aversion to the spotlight has allowed him to navigate more than two decades as a head coach without much fanfare.

Now sitting on 999 career victories, the Minnesota Timberwolves coach is on the brink of joining an exclusive club that is sure to bring some long overdue attention his way.

The Timberwolves host Toronto tonight, when he will try to become the eighth coach in NBA history to win 1,000 career games.

“I’ve said it many times, I think he’s the most underrated coach in the league. ... Even the guys that he’s coached in the past that are on other teams now, they still do the things that he taught them offensively,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s very creative in that sense. ... He’s one of those guys, he doesn’t try to get the camera. He couldn’t care less. He just wants to do his job and go home. And he does it well.”

One more win would put Adelman on a list with Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl as men who had the staying power, resilience and coaching chops to climb to this summit. He’s widely considered one of the best Xs and Os guys in the game, a coach who can take his five and beat yours or your five and beat his.

“He’s one of the all-time great coaches in the league,” Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau said. “To do it the way he’s done it for as long as he’s done it, it says a lot about him. And he’s done it with a lot of different teams. His teams always play hard, they always play unselfishly. They play smart, play together. It’s the way he’s been for a very long time.”