MULLENS, W.Va. -- There was no such thing as a simple game of bridge in the D'Antoni household.
It didn't matter who won last night's game of Monopoly or who ate the most cereal, the victor's name was posted on the refrigerator for all to see.
Lewis and Betty Jo D'Antoni weren't about to let any of their children - Kathy, Danny, Mike or Mark - take a title without a fight.
"We wouldn't let them win . . . I mean, they had to earn it," Lewis, 98, said Monday from his home in Mullens. "And they had to learn how to win and also you had to learn when you're a loser. And you had to improve to be a winner."The competitions were fierce but not hostile, and were an attempt to teach a lesson learned from a life of overcoming adversity. The D'Antoni children took that lesson to heart.
Kathy, 70, the oldest, is an assistant superintendent for the state Department of Education. Mark, the youngest at 51, is an attorney in Charleston.
And on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers hired the other two D'Antoni boys: Mike, 61, will be the team's head coach and Dan, 66, will be an assistant.
The Education Alliance, a West Virginia nonprofit devoted to better education in the state, is honoring Lewis tonight at its annual dinner for the D'Antoni family success.
All four children credit their parents with giving them the tools to achieve.
"I think the whole atmosphere, how to compete and how to interact with other people, how to lose . . . It was just something that was instilled, that was just the way our family grew up," Mike said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I've been fortunate enough to play games my whole life."
Winning was never the real reason Lewis and Betty Jo wanted their children to play. In a family so often defined by its success on the basketball court, winning has never been the ultimate goal.
Competition was the way Lewis and Betty Jo delivered their most important lesson: be the best you can be.
That's what D'Antonis call success.
Pride via optimism
Andrea D'Antoni never complained a day in his life.
Not when he came through Ellis Island in 1908, a piece of paper pinned to his lapel because he was unable to speak English. Not when he worked in a McComas coal mine, even after two brothers-in-law died in accidents. Not when the wood-frame building in Mullens that served both as his family's home and his grocery store burned to the ground. He also didn't complain when the bank lost all his money after going belly up during the Great Depression or when his wife died, leaving him to raise four children.
Lewis, who turns 99 on New Year's Eve, never forgot his father's attitude. "Dad had a lot of adversities. I cannot believe . . . that one human being would have that many. But I never heard him complain," Lewis said. "He just worked longer hours and harder."
Sixteen when his mother died, Lewis saw his father persevere. He used his father's example in his own life, because nothing came easily to the son of an Italian immigrant in southern West Virginia.
He wanted to show the people who looked down on foreigners that he was just as good as anybody else. Basketball gave him the chance to do that: he excelled as a point guard at Mullens High School before playing at nearby Concord College.
Graduating with a degree in biology, he went on to play professional basketball in Bluefield and Virginia for a few years before he returned home to coach and teach.
It was during his tenure as a coach at Pineville High School that he met his wife. He came down with the flu in 1940, and friends knew he was living alone. They invited him to stay at their home, where Betty Jo also happened to live. Lewis laughs as he recalls Betty Jo nursing him back to health. They were married in 1941, and apart from the 44 months Lewis spent as a member of the Navy's Seabees during World War II, they remained together until her death in 1990.
The strength of their bond created the foundation for a strong family.
"With me and my wife, what I was most proud of was the type of home that we had for our kids. I think you start there to develop your kids in the right manner," Lewis said. "And I think you have to have a good starting point."
That bond was never more evident for Dan than one day when he went to play basketball.
He remembers asking his mother if he could play and she told him he could not because it was almost time for dinner. Lewis always let his children play basketball so Dan went to his father and received the answer he wanted.