When the Rockets announced the hiring of coach Jeff Van Gundy
last week, his predecessor, Rudy Tomjanovich, was in the middle
of a fast as he awaited test results on the cancerous bladder
that forced him to resign after a 12-year run that included two
NBA championships. "All I've had to eat are juices, and
I thought I'd feel weak, but I feel fantastic,"
said Tomjanovich, who at 54 has been forced to radically change
his life. "When I wake up, the first thing I feel is joy to
have another day. It's amazing to me because the old Rudy
would have been so worried about having cancer and wanting to
know what's going to happen."
Tomjanovich grew up in Hamtramck, Mich., which he describes as
"an industrial town with a neighborhood bar on every
corner." Five years ago he gave up drinking, which led him
to a spiritual awakening. "Not to get too deep into
it," he says, "but I have a trust in God now."
Tomjanovich believes that the stresses and pent-up feelings of
coaching contributed to his cancer. Though he was known as a
players' coach, Tomjanovich endured myriad arguments and
crises with stars that never became public. In 1999 he was
hospitalized for exhaustion after too many late nights spent
reviewing tapes and stats in the mistaken belief that he could
control the result of every game. "I've looked at our
championship tapes, and I realize I didn't pull off any
magic," he says. "Our players made some plays for us
that got us past those series against Phoenix, New York and Utah.
Sometimes as a coach you can get caught up in thinking,
'I'm the one who made that happen.' But it's not true."
Tomjanovich remains interested in coaching, and other franchises
are intrigued by him--the New Orleans Hornets inquired about him
a week before deciding to hire Tim Floyd--but he is in no mood to
rush back in, preferring to spend the coming season as a scout
for the Rockets. "This will give me some time to live a more
stress-free life," he says. "It would be a shame to get
a good report from the doctor and then get thrown right back into