NBA Insider: Wolves Assistant Bryan Gates Doing What He Loves


Bryan Gates' dream job always was coaching in the NBA. He got there. 

If life indeed is a journey and not a destination, then you can consider Timberwolves assistant coach Bryan Gates a rich man.

A man who once essentially lived out of his car for a time while chasing the basketball dream, Gates spent a decade in the game’s minor leagues before he reached a new life as an NBA assistant coach as well as a husband and father now of 4-year-old triplet daughters.

“Everybody has their different path to the NBA,” he said. “Mine just happened to go through a lot of states, a few leagues and a couple countries.”

He has coached in the IBA, the CBA, the CBL, the USBL, the NBA Development League — everywhere from Boise, Idaho, and Rapid City, S.D., to Enid, Okla., and Hickory, N.C. — and one season in Beirut as well. He was a head coach in the USBL at age 27 and for several years worked as a CBA assistant coach in winter and in the USBL in spring and early summer.

Gates coached in Beirut a decade ago, some 20 years after civil war reduced many parts of the city to rubble. He remembers passing over the Lebanon-Syrian border to play two games just as Syria was starting to become what it is today.

“One of the most disturbing sights I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “People living in tarps, it rained and it was wet and mud and tarps. People were trying to get out and here we are, riding a bus over the border to play a basketball game.”

LA regular participant in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative now, Gates knows a little bit about what it’s like to travel to basketball’s far ends of the Earth. After all, he grew up in Alaska, a far-flung hockey state that still produced basketball stars Carlos Boozer, Trajan Langdon, Mario Chalmers and a kid from Anchorage who grew up eating his cereal and watching NBA games televised live four time zones away, starting at noon in Boston or New York.

“I never watched cartoons,” he said. “Those games were my cartoons.”

An uncle took him every year on Thanksgiving weekend to the Great Alaska Shootout college basketball tournament, where he was a ball boy. When he was 8 or 9, his dad took him to a Lakers preseason game played in Anchorage, and he recalls high-fiving Kurt Rambis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When he was a 5-10, 110-pound seventh-grader, he wrote a school report about what he wanted to be.

“I wrote I want to be an NBA coach,” Gates said.

Years later after he attended Boise State, Gates called his dad to tell him he turned down a “nice career job” with a tech company to intern with the new minor league team in town.

“He hung up on me,” Gates said, “but my mom reminded him of that report.”

Now he is where he always wanted to be, in his sixth NBA season: His first was with Sacramento. This sixth one is his first with the Wolves. The other five were spent working for head coach Monty Williams in New Orleans.

While with the Pelicans, he remembers celebrating his 40th birthday at a Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles, preparing the team’s scouting report for the Lakers the next day. He remembers celebrating his 30th birthday by driving from a scouting combine to Portsmouth, Va., to interview with a minor league team in North Carolina called the Hickory Nutz.

“I just laughed at what a crazy 10 years it had been,” Gates said. “You know what you want to do. This is what I’ve always wanted to. I never thought it was work. I still don’t think it is.”