NBA Playoffs 2023: The legendary N.J. hoops figure who still mentors Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone (2023)

Bob Farrell is 76 and 12 years removed from retiring as the boys basketball coach at Seton Hall Prep, but he still stays in touch with one of his more famous protégés.

Farrell texts regularly with Michael Malone, Farrell’s point guard for two years at “The Prep” before graduating in 1988 and then embarking on a long and winding career in basketball as a player and coach.

Malone, 51, is now the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, who on Monday night finished off a sweep of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Malone will guide Denver into its first NBA Finals appearance against either the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics beginning June 1.

Farrell texted Malone Tuesday morning and “told him how poised and resilient his team was [Monday] night” when it overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to sweep the series.

“I told him how proud I was of him and how he spread the credit around and deflected it away from himself,” he added.

“I’m like a parent,” said Farrell, who is in his 54th year teaching phys ed at The Prep but retired from coaching in 2011 with 777 victories, including two New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles (1999 and 2005), 12 Non-Public A state championships, 10 Essex County Tournament crowns and 26 conference championships. “I’m so excited, he’s a basketball lifer.”

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It’s a sign of how much the Nuggets coach respects his old coach that when Farrell texts, Malone usually gets right back to him. After one playoff game, Farrell told Malone to drink tea with lemon “for his voice” because he is yelling so much. “He can hardly talk and when he has those poor interviews during the quarter, I don’t think anybody but me can understand him,” Farrell said.

When some of the Nuggets playoff games began at 10 p.m. on the East Coast, Farrell joked with Malone that they were past his bedtime.

“I said to him the other day, I’m getting old and staying up to watch a 10 o’clock game, I gotta DVR it and get up early and watch it,” he said. Fortunately for Farrell, the conference finals and NBA Finals games all start at 8:30 E.T.


Malone is a native of Queens and the son of longtime former NBA assistant and head coach Brendan Malone, who attended the famed Rice High School in Harlem and then Iona College.

When Brendan Malone left his job as the head coach at Rhode Island to join Hubie Brown’s staff with the Knicks in 1986, the family moved to West Orange, N.J. and Michael left Bishop Hendricken to enroll at Seton Hall Prep.

“They spent a day looking around the school and decided this was where they were going to send him to school,” Farrell recalled.

Farrell described Malone as a “headstrong” and “stubborn” point guard with a penchant for freelancing even when the coach wanted him to run specific plays in the halfcourt.

On one occasion during a shortened practice, Malone ignored Farrell’s play call and the coach threw him out of practice, meaning he wouldn’t compete in the game the following day against rival Shabazz High School from Newark.

Sure enough, Malone was on the bench in street clothes when his father and Brown came strolling into the gym expecting to see Michael play in the big game.

“And Brendan Malone, he could’ve burnt a hole in Michael for 32 minutes,” Farrell recalled. “He didn’t tell his dad, ‘Hey, don’t bring Hubie tonight to the game because I’m not playing,’ so I’m sure his father was embarrassed that that happened.”


After a playing career at Loyola College (Md.), Michael Malone moved into coaching, first at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., during the 1994-95 season and then later at Providence, Virginia and Manhattan, where he was the lead assistant under Bobby Gonzalez, who would go on to coach at Seton Hall.

“He was a smart hard-working guy from a basketball family as his father was a long time Five-Star [Basketball Camp] guy with Garf [Howard Garfinkel] and was in the NBA for years with Chuck Daly in Detroit,” Gonzalez said. “I believe I helped Michael as a young assistant. We built Manhattan from the bottom up and Mike helped those first two years.”

In 2001, Malone called Farrell for some advice. He had been offered a job with the Knicks on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff as a coaching associate. Should he take it, or remain in college with the hopes of landing a head coaching job at the mid-major level?

“Coach, I have a chance to go to the Knicks,” Farrell recalled Malone saying. “What do you think I should do?”

“Mike, where’s your heart? Farrell asked him.

“His dad was an NBA coach and basically that’s where his heart was,” Farrell explained on Monday. “Basically he knew he had to take a chance because it was a low-level entry position with the Knicks and he went for it, and paid his dues. And he was so loyal at every level. I’ve never heard him say a negative word for anybody he ever worked for.”

After four years with the Knicks, Malone moved on to assistant coaching gigs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors before finally getting a shot as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings in 2013. He thus became part of history as just the second son of a former NBA head coach to also coach, joining Bill and Eric Musselman.

Malone was fired by the Kings in 2015 but soon landed on his feet as the head coach in Denver.


NBA Playoffs 2023: The legendary N.J. hoops figure who still mentors Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone (2)

Led by Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals in 2020, losing to LeBron and the Lakers in the Orlando bubble, and also reached the conference semis in 2019 and ‘21.

Jokic was named NBA MVP in 2021 and ‘22 (coming in second this year to Joel Embiid of the Sixers) but was gaining the reputation as a player who couldn’t lead his team to the ultimate goal.

This year’s version of the Nuggets finished first in the West with a 53-29 record and then took out Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-1) before dispatching Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns (4-2) in the conference semis (4-2).

Entering the Finals, Denver is 12-3 in the playoffs.

Jokic is averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists in these playoffs. He is the first player in history to average a triple-double through the first 15 games of a postseason.

Farrell recalled that after the Nuggets first drafted Jokic in 2014, Malone flew to Serbia “and spent time with his family.”

“He understood that if I get the best player on my team to know that I trust him and appreciate him, he can basically get everybody to follow suit,” Farrell said. “Sort of like [Gregg Popovich] with Tim Duncan. If I can yell at Tim Duncan or Jokovic, I can demand other things from you guys.”

Former Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in April 2021, averaged 32.5 points on 40% 3-point shooting against the Lakers.

But Denver has also gotten key contributions from role players like Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon.

When Malone held aloft the Western Conference Finals trophy on Monday night, his players applauded behind him.

“The guys behind me, they believed since training camp,” Malone, wearing a white “NBA Finals 2023” T-shirt and matching cap, told ESPN’s Lisa Salters on court.

“We got four more to go, we got a special group. Let’s go Nugget nation!” Malone went on to praise Nuggets ownership, front office and his coaching staff, adding that he “loved each and every one of our players.”

Farrell can draw a line from his coaching philosophy to some of what he sees in Malone’s team.

“I can’t ask guys just to play defense and have just one or two guys scoring all the time,” Farrell said. “I want everybody touching the ball. I want everybody feeling a part.

“And so I see that in Mike. I see when they set a good screen or a pass, they’re always pointing to each other. But the thing I like about the Nuggets is, unlike other NBA squads, they’ve taken Jokic and Jamal Murray and Porter, all draft choices, they were patient with them and I think they’ve filled the other pieces in.”

And if this group can win the franchise’s first NBA championship, Farrell will be among the first to text and congratulate his old point guard.

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Adam Zagoria is a freelance reporter who covers Seton Hall and NJ college basketball for NJ Advance Media. You may follow him on Twitter @AdamZagoria and check out his Website at

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