Oakley takes tough-guy persona to Bobcats' bench

Charles Oakley was known as an enforcer, Michael Jordan's bodyguard and a rebounding machine in a bruising and lengthy career. He had feuds with players, entire teams and believes he's responsible for the NBA's strengthened flagrant foul rules.

So it's no doubt surprising to some that a guy who's had more than a few brushes with authority is now giving orders as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats.

Oakley just doesn't understand the fuss.

"I guess I'm going to have to go Google myself and see why people think I shouldn't be coaching," Oakley said. "I'm still tough. I'm just wearing suits right now. I'm Superman."

Welcome to the candid, unfiltered and sometimes unpolished world of Oakley, who's spent the past month on the bench of the Jordan-owned Bobcats.

And, of course, it probably wouldn't be a proper Oakley story if he wasn't working for a guy he once tangled with.

"We got into it one time," Bobcats interim coach Paul Silas said, recalling an incident at practice when he was an assistant in New York in the early 1990s. "He was shooting free throws and I said something to him. He walked up on me and I hit him.

"Then he hit me all in my chest and whatnot. I had bruises for like two weeks. Stu Jackson is coaching and comes down says, 'Paul, are you out of your mind?'"

Now Silas, who ranks 19th on the NBA's all-time rebounds list with 12,357, is paired with the coaching neophyte Oakley, who ranks 20th with 12,205 boards.

"He's brought some toughness to our big men," Silas said. "He's into it all the time. Watching tape, really a student of the game right now. He has to get more involved in the Xs and Os, but that will come. Right now I'm very appreciative with what he's doing."

The 47-year-old Oakley may be an inexperienced coach, but he has a lengthy agenda, from toughening up his players to making them look better.

"When you walk out here with the Bobcats' logo, stand for something," Oakley said. "Not wearing your hat to the back, sagging jeans. Be a professional, that's how I present myself to them. Nice dresser, toughness and a demeanor."

Oakley brought all of that in a 19-year playing career which included two stints with the Bulls in which he was known for protecting Jordan with a hard foul or two. He also spent time with the Knicks, Raptors, Wizards and Rockets in a career littered with hard-nosed play.

He once was suspended for his role in a brawl involving Shaquille O'Neal and later for throwing a basketball at Tyrone Hill's head during a long-running dispute over a gambling debt. He's been at odds with the Knicks since they traded him to Toronto. He insists there would be no such thing as different levels of flagrant fouls if it wasn't for him.

Now Oakley wants to bring what he believes is that missing intensity back to NBA while wearing crisp suits on Charlotte's bench.

"If you're any kind of guy who understands basketball you can succeed because it's just so weak right now," Oakley said. "The talent level, guys don't want to play hard, guys just going through the motions. We want to separate ourselves from other teams."

Fittingly, Oakley's main project now is a one-time teammate he relentlessly scolded late in his career in Washington. Kwame Brown is considered Jordan's biggest mistake as an executive when he took him No. 1 overall in 2001.

"I was in Washington when he was a rookie. You put in what you get out," Oakley said. "If you don't put time into your game you're not going to get better."

Brown has since moved into Charlotte's starting lineup. He's averaging 9.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in the past four games while shaking off the tough love.

"Everything with Oak is animated," Brown said. "People that don't know him might take it the wrong way, but he's just trying to help you. He only knows one speed and that's fast and that's hard."

Oakley had been talking with Jordan about coaching for a while, and his close friend gave him a job after Jordan fired Larry Brown and his staff last month.

The Bobcats have gone 8-5 since the coaching change to move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. But Charlotte's big man coach will be tested with Tyrus Thomas sidelined for up to two months following knee surgery Friday.

"I've always been like a player-coach. Putting everybody in the right place, angle the defense, knowing the other team's plays, knowing what other guys do," Oakley said. "That's not what you see in the game today. Guys not thinking ahead, guys not knowing the other guy's strength and weakness on a consistent basis."

Oakley, who looks to be in good enough shape to log about 20 minutes in a game today, is still learning. He avoided getting into trouble in a game at Chicago this week when he grabbed the shorts of Taj Gibson while he was trying to make it down the court after an inbounds pass.

One thing is for certain: With Silas and Oakley, there probably isn't a more feared bench in the NBA.

"It's just good to know that big guys got a chance to coach this game," Oakley said. "Most coaches are mostly small guards because they think guards have more knowledge."

"A lot of people say, 'Can he be a patient with the guys?' I'm going to respect the guys. That's all I can do. I'm not going to hold their hands."