Pierce was an assistant with the Warriors early in Curry’s career, and the future two-time NBA MVP made a point of reaching out to him for extra drills. “He invests his entire self into the game,” Curry said. “He’s a player’s coach and he’s going to try to put the guys in the right positions and really care about them.”
Pierce’s talent for building rapport hardly seemed likely when the San Jose high school star first arrived at Santa Clara on a recruiting visit and barely uttered a word.
On the night before his last day on campus, a desperate Coach Davey pulled guard Marlon Garnett ’97 aside to ask for help getting Pierce to break his silence. “He said, ‘Marlon … you’ve got to get this kid to talk,’” Garnett says with a laugh. “‘If he doesn’t talk, we can’t sign him.’”
By the time Pierce graduated, his old muteness long forgotten, he had become a leader who instinctively mentored others: on the court, in the locker room, or on the team bus. At the post-season banquet his senior year, he gave a speech that was supposed to go ten minutes. Instead, Davey says, it neared an hour. “There were some things that just needed to be said,” Pierce recalled a few years later.
After graduating, Pierce went on to play in Germany, Mexico, Australia, and Turkey, returning to SCU in the off-season to work out and help the team. It was there, he says, that Davey first put the idea of coaching in his head.
Lloyd Pierce served on Dick Davey’s staff for four years, taking in the details and logistics of his new job and finding satisfaction in sharing hard-won lessons from his own playing days. After Davey’s departure in 2007, he decided to try for new challenges, landing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and, in turn, the Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and finally the Sixers, the accolades growing with each stop. “S/O my great friend Lloyd Pierce coaching for Philly in summer league. He’s really good and is climbing that ladder. #LaFamilia,” LeBron James wrote on Facebook in 2014.
Early on, Nash—at the height of his NBA stardom—gave Pierce advice in handling players: Be authentic, the key to gaining trust and buy-in. It is an approach that’s central to Pierce’s success. “What they feel from him is this genuineness,” says Garnett, who sees it as up close as anyone.
As his own pro playing career began to wind down, Garnett—who Davey calls the greatest shooter he ever coached—began attending the NBA’s summer league season to scope out coaching opportunities. Pierce was impressed by Garnett’s drive and helped him make connections, which led to jobs with the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns.
A week after his appointment in Atlanta, Pierce brought Garnett to the Hawks as assistant coach. “It was an easy hire for me once I got the head job here,” he says.
He’ll need some good help to lean on. Not only is he taking on the new job. In August 2018 he became a first-time dad with wife Melissa. Lloyd Pierce is still reaching new heights.
SAM SCOTT ’96 is an award-winning writer who has covered everything from high tech and AI to basketball and rock and roll.