'Part-time' Blazers job turned into 30-year NBA career for Dan Burke
Dan Burke had his career pretty much mapped out.
"I was going to teach and coach at the high school level," the Sherwood High and Portland State graduate says. "I told my wife (Peggy) that we'd go to some small town and I'd have a key to the gym and a small classroom and teach.
"I was substitute teaching and coaching football and basketball at Sherwood and Clackamas. Then all hell broke loose."
Hell began to cut its swath in 1988, when Burke's uncle — then Trail Blazers assistant coach Rick Adelman — asked him to help prepare video for the NBA playoffs.
Today, 30 years later, Burke is a fixture as an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, looking at a nice pension when the time arrives to retire.
"I've been fortunate," says Burke, 58, back in town for the Pacers' game with the Blazers Thursday night at Moda Center. "I feel blessed."
A member of a large, prominent family — with nine children, eight of them boys — Burke believes he was the second full-time video coordinator in the NBA.
The seed was planted prior to the 1988 playoffs, when Adelman — then an assistant under Mike Schuler — called to ask for some assistance.
"Mike wanted everything separated by video," Burke says. "Rick said, 'Can you help us out part-time?'"
Burke was not a computer guy and had no experience working with video, but he taught himself quickly.
"I was doing the hunt-and-peck (typing) method, putting stuff on VCRs," he says with a laugh. "It was a ton of work."
The following season, after Adelman had taken over as interim head coach of the Blazers, he beckoned again.
Says Burke: "Rick said, 'Will you help out again? You're the only one who knows what we want. Just do the best you can.' "
After that season, Burke received a call from Blazers President Harry Glickman.
"He said, 'Paul (Allen, the owner) wants to make this a full-time job. Are you interested?'" Burke says.
"I told Peggy, 'Let's give it a try for a year or two.' "
Burke worked seven seasons as Portland's video coordinator during the time the Clyde Drexler-led Blazers twice reached the NBA Finals. Burke also learned much about the coaching business, doing some scouting and helping out the staffs of Adelman and P.J. Carlesimo whenever possible.
When Carlesimo was fired after the 1996-97 season, Burke was hired as assistant coach, scouting director and video coordinator of the Pacers, in part on the recommendation of former Blazers assistants Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter, in part due to then-Indiana general manager David Kahn, a Portland native.
Burke's first Indiana coach? Larry Bird. They bonded immediately. Burke traveled with the Pacers during all three of Bird's seasons as coach, during which they reached the Eastern Conference finals three times and the NBA Finals in 1999-2000.
"My first three weeks there, I wasn't sure I was going to make it," Burke says. "I didn't have time to sleep. It was a lot of ball. But it was a great experience. Larry let me do almost everything.
"The only reason I'm here today is the experience I got then. I did all the (game day) walk-throughs, the written reports, the video. And Rick and I were doing player development."
Carlisle says he and Burke had grown "very close" while working together in Portland.
"I was the one who brought Dan to Indiana," says Carlisle, now head coach of the Dallas Mavericks. "Larry was looking to put together an entire staff. Because there was a change (with the Blazer coaching staff), Dick, myself and Dan were all available. And it worked out. It was a great situation.
"Dan has entrenched himself (with the Pacers) as a indispensable guy. Great basketball knowledge, great communicator. He has been a valuable resource for all their coaches through the years."
Burke has now worked in Indiana under six head coaches: Bird (1997-2000), Isiah Thomas (2000-03), Carlisle (2003-07), Jim O'Brien (2007-11), Frank Vogel (2011-16) and Nate McMillan (2016 to present). He dropped the video duties during the Carlisle regime and has been the minister of defense under both Vogel and McMillan.
"You learn from every situation," Burke says. "For Frank, I did all the defense for him. I was the bad cop. It was a good group. I enjoyed working for Frank."
Burke had never met McMillan until McMillan joined Vogel's Indiana staff as lead assistant.
"I loved working with Nate, and I love working for him," Burke says. "He's a good man. He's straightforward. He's serious, but he knows when not to be serious — he has a good feel for that. It's not about him. He commands respect. He wants you to do your job, and that's all he asks."
McMillan is glad to be able to have retained Burke's services.
"Dan is the focus of our defense," McMillan says. "He's been that guy since Frank took over, as the defensive coach. Dan is an excellent coach with a lot of experience with different coaches in this league.
"I've enjoyed working with and learning from him. His mind-set is 90 percent defense and 10 percent offense. He does a great job at it."
Dan and Peggy, who have been married for 28 years, have two daughters, 25 and 23. Once they moved to Indianapolis, stability for the children was the goal.
"That was the priority," Burke says. "We had a chance to move a couple of times. When we headed for Indiana, I told Peggy, 'Fasten your seat belt. We're going to be moving every three years now.'
"Luckily, we haven't had to. We wanted to keep the kids in the same schools. And it has worked out. Indianapolis was a good spot for them to grow up."
Burke may be No. 1 in seniority as an assistant coach with one franchise. It is unprecedented in NBA history, too, for an assistant to work under six head coaches with one team for more than two decades. The only long-time aide who comes close is the legendary Bill Bertka, who served under seven head coaches in 19 years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"You bring Bill's name up, you're talking about a Hall of Fame-level basketball man," Carlisle says. "What Dan has done is remarkable. To remain under that many head coaches tells you about his character. He is a unique guy."
Part of Burke's longevity is tied to his humility, lack of ego and ability to work with people.
"It has never been where I had to climb somewhere, to move one seat over or one seat above," Burke says, referring to a more prominent role on a coaching staff. "I love what I do. I have great relationships with the players. I love working with the young guys. With the Pacers, we do four-on-four (workouts) during pregame and a lot of teaching. I enjoy it."
As long as McMillan is head coach, expect Burke to remain with the Pacers.
"The thing I love about Coach Nate is he trusts me," Burke says. "It's like a partnership. I have a lot of responsibility, a lot of accountability. We lean on each other. We get on each other. I love my role."