Editor's note: This article originally stated that the Centenary game in 1987 was where an opposing player went up to Billy Tubbs to "call off the dogs." This is a fact error. This actually happened against Georgia State.
Looking back on his relationship with former OU head coach Billy Tubbs, Stacey King respects how Tubbs always had a plan for his players. But before he realized this, King, whose jersey now hangs in the rafters of the Lloyd Noble Center, wanted to transfer from the Sooners.
After losing to Iowa in the 1987 Sweet Sixteen, 93-91, King wasn’t happy with the minutes he got in the game. By the time the team was on the plane from Seattle, he was ready to go to a new school. King was so ready to make the decision to leave, he started talking with his academic adviser, who was also on the plane.
Hearing of King’s feelings, Tubbs went to sit with King to console him, asking the Lawton, Oklahoma, native to think about it for a few days. He wanted to get one point across: He understood King was frustrated with not playing but that his time would come.
“(Tubbs) says, ‘Your future's bright, Stacey King. Just make sure you're wearing your sunglasses,’” King said. “And then he got up and left.
“Having a coach to have the foresight and the ability to see things that an 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid can't see is amazing.”
King, who later won three NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, chose to stay, and his life hasn’t been the same since.
Tubbs, who coached the Sooners from 1980–94, died Nov. 1 in his home in Norman after a five-year battle with leukemia. He was 85. King said it was that story and Tubbs’ devotion to his players that stand out to him the most.
“The loyalty to his players had no end,” King said. “Even though he knew guys were better than the guys in front of them, he was loyal to those guys. And that's one thing I later on appreciated as I got older and understood where he was coming from, and why he did what he did. He was loyal to his players.”
King, who has done color commentary for the Bulls since 2006, remembers Tubbs as a country music-loving, quick-witted mentor who created modern OU basketball. Tubbs led the program to four Big Eight regular season titles, two Big Eight Tournament championships and its second and last NCAA national championship appearance in 1988.
Tubbs created lightning-fast, physical teams that broke NCAA scoring records. The 1987-88 squad still holds the record for most points in a single season (4,012), and scored over 100 points 20 times that season, twice eclipsing 150. Tubbs amassed 333 wins with the Sooners, the most in program history.
Behind the success came Tubbs’ no-nonsense intensity. In King’s catalogue of favorite memories of his former coach, he recalled a game against Georgia State on Dec. 19, 1987. King couldn’t remember the score, but the Sooners were up by at least 30, and Tubbs was getting ready to take the starters out, before a Centenary player came over, asking Tubbs to “call off the dogs.”
“Tubbs turns over to each one of the starters who were still in the game,” said King, who averaged 24 points-per-game in his last two seasons with the Sooners. “He says, ‘They think you're a bunch of dogs. Let’s show them what greyhounds do. Let's run them into the ground. And if we don't beat them by 50, we’re gonna be practicing this weekend.’”
The Sooners won, 124-81.
“He was brash, he was in your face, he didn't care if he hurt your feelings,” Kings said. “He didn't care if he embarrassed you. He wanted to destroy you. And he recruited players with the same mentality.”
Such wins were plentiful and eventually revived Oklahoma basketball fandom, prompting constant sell-outs at the Lloyd Noble Center and on the road. It also led to OU producing some of its greatest recruiting classes, with names such as Wayman Tisdale, Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant.
Outside of basketball, King and Tubbs’ family kept in touch often. When the Bulls were in Oklahoma City, he’d call Tubbs to make sure he was at the game every year, and he’d call his former coach often for advice.
King stayed in contact with Tubbs’ family when he heard his former coach went into hospice care the week prior. Throughout his relationship with Tubbs that spanned over three decades, King always noticed Tubbs’ devotion to his wife and family. Tubbs is survived by his wife, Pat, and his daughter and son, Taylor McDaniel and Tommy.
“My heart goes out right now to his family, especially Mrs. Tubbs. They've been married a long time. They’re soulmates,” King said. “I know how much he loves Mrs. Tubbs and his family. He was a tremendous family man. It was all about family.”
After OU, Tubbs went on to become head coach at TCU (1994-2002) and Lamar (2003-06), where he was also Athletic Director. Tubbs tallied a 641-340 career head coaching record, which is 43th all-time in the NCAA men’s basketball. Through it all, King considered him a dear friend and a mentor.
“He's a great man. It's awesome that I was able to have him touch my life and be part of my life,” King said, “even as an adult.”
“Billy Tubbs built Lloyd Noble,” King said. “He didn't physically build it, but it was a house that Billy Tubbs built. His name should be on the court. It should be the Billy Tubbs Court. … He’s a hall of famer in my book.”
Correction: This story was updated at 1:52 p.m. Nov. 8 to reflect OU's 1988 NCAA national championship appearance was the Sooners' second, not their first.