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Steve Clifford recalls 'scary' time

Steve Clifford knew something was very wrong almost immediately.

This wasn't indigestion. He wasn't light-headed. His chest hurt, badly. His breathing labored. And when he got up to from dinner to walk around, things got worse, not better.

"I'd never felt pain like that in my chest," the Charlotte Bobcats coach said. "You wonder what's going on. Am I having a heart attack? Am I having a stroke? It was scary."

An ambulance was called to the restaurant in Charlotte, N.C., where the 52-year-old Clifford was dining with longtime friend, ESPN broadcaster Mike Breen, and one of his agents. He was given oxygen and taken to the emergency room. Two blockages were discovered and stents were placed in his heart.

A little more than a week later, Clifford is back on the road with his team. The Bobcats improved to 5-4 with an 86-80 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. But his life is forever changed.

"I didn't have significant damage to my heart," Clifford said. "It's functioning normally and there was no damage, so I'm lucky in that this should only help me if I'm smart with diet, rest, medication and education. My quality of life should be even better."

Clifford said he's still a little weak from the ordeal and will be on an abbreviated work schedule for at least the next few weeks. But eventually he'll go back to a more normal schedule.

"When we're in Charlotte, I'm just there when the players are there," he said. "I go in to meet with our staff, do practice and then I leave right away. I'm not going in early in the morning and I'm not staying after. I still do some work, but I'm working more out of my apartment than the office."

That's a huge change from his previous work habits.

"There's no 5 a.m. wake-up calls right now," he said. "The one thing I don't have is all my strength back yet, so you have to be smart with it. I feel like I have my eyes wide open. I'm following their directions."

But doctors have told him that with medication, changes to his diet and more sleep and exercise, he can greatly decrease his chances of another episode.

"I'm fortunate because a majority of the people who have heart attacks and strokes don't get warnings; it just happens," Clifford said. "Luckily for me, this was a warning and they were able to find it, fix it and I don't have any heart disease."

Clifford said doctors believe his family history with heart problems -- his father, Jerry, had his first heart procedure at age 52 -- is the main reason he experienced this.

Clifford is in his first year with the Bobcats after serving as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. It is his first head coaching opportunity, and the Bobcats were off to a fast start when he suffered the chest pains, having beaten the Knicks and Raptors back-to-back.

There's no part of him that feels sorry this happened in his first few weeks on the job, however.

"I just think being involved in the NBA is an incredible job and it's not something I'll ever take for granted," he said. "I'm enjoying the opportunity and I'm grateful for it, but ultimately, to be honest, it's never been my ultimate goal. I've loved every job I've had in this league. If I was back with the Lakers, I'd be enjoying that, too."

Still, it's been enjoyable to coach his own team.

"[Bobcats chairman] Michael Jordan has been great. [President of basketball operation] Rod Higgins and [general manager] Rich Cho have been incredibly supportive of everything," Clifford said. "And I really like our team. We're young, but guys are serious about getting better.

"I feel like we have a better team [than last year]. We picked up Al Jefferson and drafted Cody Zeller, then we brought back Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts. I feel like we have a team that we can have a good year with. We had a good preseason. They were all there in September, which helps. I feel like once we get Al back and healthy, we can take a big jump forward in our play, too."