The sun has yet to rise over Manhattan on a chilly fall morning when a former Knicks head coach strolls into a downtown cafe completely unrecognized. At 7:15, no line separates him from the awaiting barista. He orders a Venti, sugar-free, vanilla latte, per usual, seamlessly scanning the loyalty rewards app on his phone. “I don’t actually like coffee,” Mike D’Antoni swears. “But I’m addicted to Starbucks.”
“Oh, it’s everyday,” says Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, a Lakers assistant under D’Antoni during the 2012-13 season. “I don’t care home, road, no matter practice or game, if you went into his hotel room—whatever it was—he’s gonna find a Starbucks.” “If he can’t get there, I don’t want to talk to him the rest of the day,” says Dan D’Antoni, the younger brother of the Rockets’ head coach.
The reigning Coach of the Year begins every day at the nearest Starbucks. It’s a habit that stems back to 1977, when a 27-year-old, caffeine-free D’Antoni joined Olimpia Milano as an ABA washout. It wasn’t long before he was downing four cappuccinos a day. “All the Italians did it and I didn’t have anything else to do when I’m sitting at a coffee bar,” D’Antoni says. “I’ll tell you what though: I have dreams about a cappuccino and a brioche in the morning, filled with apricot. Oh… my... God! And they’re hot!” A daily ritual emerged, reading the USA Today in between bites of his pastry and scribbling in the paper’s daily crossword puzzle. “I could not wait to wake up and go get my routine going.”
But one can sometimes get lost in a robotic regimen. Racking your brain for the answer to 4–Across can sometimes blind you from a billion-dollar idea. Howard Schultz didn’t make the same vital error. “He’s in Milan figuring out that you can sell people five bucks-a-cup of coffee,” D’Antoni chuckles. “I’m sitting there drinking the same cappuccino he’s drinking, haven’t figured anything out.” Schultz, now Starbucks' executive chairman, also infamously sold the Seattle Supersonics.
Of course, D’Antoni did discover the offensive scheme that launched perhaps the greatest era of NBA basketball, beginning with his Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns, whose offense appeared to hum as caffeinated as their head coach. His Rockets currently sit second in the Western Conference at 8–3, even with All-NBA point guard Chris Paul sidelined with a knee injury. And while D'Antoni can't wait to see Paul return, he shows even less patience when it comes to his morning brew.
“He’s got to have Starbucks,” Dan says. “He’s particular. I can roll with the punches a little better.” Schultz’s Seattle-based coffee conglomerate is (aside from it’s convenience) the only stateside cup of joe that can compare to D’Antoni’s beloved Milan cappuccino. “When I go back to Italy, I run to the closest bar and get one of those,” he says. His morning Starbucks isn’t complete without his complementary 40-year routine. After digesting hours of film the previous evening, D’Antoni gleefully treks to the nearest shop from the team hotel. He basks in the cafe’s aroma and relishes flipping through the paper in relative anonymity, like any other coffee addict on his way into the office. Although, Starbucks has stopped carrying D'Antoni's preferred USA Today. “That’s a bummer. So I have to go hunt one down.” In case his mission fails, the coach carries his iPad, on which he routinely dabbles in an anagram game.
On game days, he revisits for another Venti in the afternoon. When D’Antoni returned to coaching and joined the Philadelphia 76ers’ staff for the 2015-16 season, T.J. McConnell—who now values only the freshest of coffee beans—and player development coach Chris Babcock formed a midday coffee club. “T.J. doesn’t need coffee,” D’Antoni says. “He needs something that doesn’t have caffeine in it.”
After nearly 20 years in the league, D’Antoni has memorized the locations of the nearest Starbucks to his frequented road hotels. If not, the coach feverishly scrolls through his iPad's map application to spot the next morning’s safe haven. Only few cities cause a panic. “Utah’s one, it throws me for a loop. I’m serious,” D’Antoni says. “I dread going there. I like Utah, but they don’t have a Starbucks.” Otherwise, D’Antoni will assuredly start each day with his Venti, sugar-free, vanilla latte. It’s a habit that predates the NBA’s installation of the three-point line in 1979, after all. Then again, not all of D'Antoni's habits involve beans. “When you get to Indiana,” Clifford says. “He’s going right to Steak ‘n Shake.”