The Houston Rockets officially picked up head coach Mike D’Antoni’s fourth-year option for the 2018-19 season. D’Antoni, two-time NBA Coach of the Year (2005 with the Phoenix Suns and 2017 with the Houston Rockets), is well-known for acclimating his European, up-tempo style to this current crop of NBA players.
What D’Antoni also brought from Europe, originally unintended, was his wife – and now basketball enthusiast – Laurel. Mike and Laurel have one son together, Mike D’Antoni Jr, who was born in Italy in 1995, and like his old man, grew up playing basketball. While the family lived in New York, Mike Jr. attended Rye High School and was a standout on the school’s basketball team.
“The Mustache” has had a successful career in professional basketball in the NBA, overseas, representing Team USA, and his wife has remained with him every step of the way. The story of the D’Antoni pairing is fast-paced, high-octane and entirely unique, just like Mike both on and off the court.
Here is what you need to know about Laurel D’Antoni:
1. Laurel and Mike Have Been Married for, Now, 32 Years
Before D’Antoni brought his version of the run-and-gun style to the NBA, becoming one of the most influential head coaches of this generation, he played basketball professionally for Olimpa Milano of the Italian Lega Basket Serie A from 1977 until 1990. He became his club’s all-time leading scorer and won five league championships.
While he lived and played in Italy, he first met his future wife in 1984 under unusual circumstances. Originally, friends of the couple intended to set Laurel up with another mutual friend.
“I was standing in front of the Benetton store waiting for the No. 54 bus,” Laurel told NBA.com. “Just before it came, I spotted Mary and Wally [Walker, former player and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics] walking down the street. We talked and they invited me out for pizza. They said they would bring some friends.”
One of those friends was Mike, the other was Russ Schoene, whom Mary and Wally originally intended to set Laurel up with. Instead, Mike invited Laurel to come watch one of his games.
Laurel intended to visit Italy for a few weeks, but ended up staying longer; within 10 days the pair discussed marriage and were eventually married in June 1986.
2. Laurel Is a Former International Model
Before Laurel met Mike, she worked as a model. Laurel, who was a handpicked recruit for the Ford Modeling agency, traveled internationally, landing in places like Tokyo, Switzerland, Germany and Italy during the course of her career.
When asked if she had pictures with clothes or without, she said: “With clothes or without?” in a May 2008 New York Post interview. “Life is too short not to live it to the fullest.”
Her humor matches the flamboyant personality of her husband.
3. She Is Critical of Her Husband’s Coaching Style
D’Antoni first gained prominence in the NBA coaching ranks when he brought his “Seven Seconds or Less” style, led by two-time NBA MVP point guard Steve Nash, to the Suns in the mid-2000s. He emphasized floor spacing, valued three-point shooting, and encouraged Nash to quarterback his offense before the market exploded on point guards and the rest of the league followed suit years later.
In a May 2018 Sports Illustrated article dissecting D’Antoni’s coaching strategy, when asked, Laurel responded by saying: “He’s an iso[lation] guy now; I hate iso.”
“He’s just morphed because of his players. My husband is in looove with James Harden. I mean, I would like to have a little bit of that love that he’s giving James Harden in my household. But I understand why. Because Mike said he’s the best offensive player he’s ever, ever, ever coached.”
Even if his wife disagrees, many of D’Antoni’s former players tend to agree with him and his assessment. They also trust his ability to scout, develop and coach talent, usually praising him during the process.
4. She Enjoys Sharing Drives with Her Husband
While D’Antoni was head coach of the New York Knicks from 2008-2012, the couple dealt with hectic New York traffic by commuting to Madison Square Garden together. To them, it made sense to share that car time, as the pair discussed potential team issues, relaxed and spent quality time together, although in an unorthodox manner.
“In the car, we could catch up,” Laurel said in a March 2018 Paper City Magazine interview. “Like a date.”
They continued the trend when Mike first became head coach of the Rockets in June 2016, and it has now become a mandatory pregame routine.
5. She Has Made Herself a Community Mainstay
Piggybacking off the car ride routine, since D’Antoni began his basketball coaching career in 1990, he has worked for six NBA organizations, two Italian clubs, and had two separate coaching stints in Italy during the 1990s. In that faithful Italian spirit, Laurel has stuck by her husband’s side despite all the traveling, and incorporated hospitality and homeliness on every stop during their life trip.
The life of a professional sports coach is unpredictable, so many find creative ways, with help from their respective spouses, of course, to bond with players, co-workers and the community. As Laurel said in a May 2017 ESPN interview: “The whole idea was I’m marrying not just the man but basketball.”
After moving to Houston in 2016, Laurel and Mike invited the team over for a Christmas Party the first December after he was hired by the organization.
“Our basketball family is our family,” Laurel told ABC13 in Houston. “We bond with them. We have the same kind of life, so my husband wanted to have everybody.”
Laurel has also dedicated herself to charity in the community. Mike teamed up with her in April 2018 to help the city, specifically rebuilding damaged homes, following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.