Getty Images Darren Erman

While Darren Erman worked as a corporate lawyer at Latham & Watkins, basketball remained his passion. Everyone at the firm knew it. A colleague there, Will Pedranti, even warned him against having his tombstone read: "The greatest coach who never was."

So Erman made a life-altering -- and perhaps a baffling, at least on the surface -- decision to leave his firm and work as a high school basketball assistant.

"I have to question any guy that's gone through law school and become an attorney and is making six figures," New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry joked, "and all of a sudden decides that he wants to be a coach that will take a job making low five figures."

Erman, though, ultimately worked his way up to second in command on the Pelicans bench, and the associate coach has become one of the most respected defensive minds in the NBA.

Darren Erman

His decision also sounds less crazy when one considers his roots. He was born and raised in basketball-mad Louisville, and the sport became his true love, as the Cardinals won two titles and reached four Final Fours in the 1980s.

"When I grew up, Louisville was the pinnacle of college basketball," Erman said. "I was always a passionate basketball fan and enjoyed playing."

Erman, who says he is 5-8 "when I stand up straight," last played basketball in the ninth grade but still dabbled in the sport while graduating from Emory University with a math degree in three years. He was a student coach at Emory tasked with some recruiting duties and also coached at local schools and the Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta.

Northwestern University Law School then paved the way for a job at Latham & Watkins.

Erman, who is recently married, enjoyed his time and co-workers there, but he had paid off his student loans and wanted to give basketball a try while he was still young and single.

And if he could master mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcy hearings at Latham & Watkins, he should have been able to understand the pick-and-roll.

"In a court room, you get all the information you can," said Wesley Johnson, who played under Erman before joining the Washington Wizards. "Same thing with the personnel and the gameplan."

Darren Erman

After three years in the court of law, Erman left Latham & Watkins at the age of 27 to teach science and coach at St. Anthony in Jersey City under legendary high school coach Bob Hurley. Seeking a job under the Hall of Famer, Erman had persistently called Hurley once a week for three months.

While sleeping on an air mattress at a friend's place in New York, he learned how to meticulously scout opponents during his two years working with the venerated coach who won 26 state and four national titles.

But it was a chance meeting with NBA player Brian Scalabrine that set Erman, 42, on his path as a coach who earn would a championship ring with the Boston Celtics, become a noted defensive assistant with the Golden State Warriors and become Gentry's associate coach with the Pelicans, for whom he has coached for four years.

Though most have focused on the developments involving Anthony Davis, the Pelicans' star player who has requested a trade, the most scintillating Pelicans story is the one involving the team's associate coach.

"That's once-in-a-lifetime," Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. "That's for sure."

***

"Lock in! No airspace!"

Pelicans guard Ian Clark shouted through the postgame locker room, repeating one of Erman's frequent defensive phrases.

In addition to being known for his defensive principles, Erman is the Pelicans' second in command. When Gentry was ejected during a 2016 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Erman ran the team.

As the associate head coach, Erman watches multiple games of the upcoming opponent in addition to reviewing Pelicans games while coming up with strategies and gameplans on how they're going to defend.

"He's so diligent in his work," Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson said. "He's always watching film."

The energetic Erman credits much of his basketball acumen to Tom Thibodeau, whom he coached under while with the Celtics. Former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo has even called Erman "a miniature Thibodeau" while marveling at his work ethic and saying he produced the best scouting reports in the NBA.

The second year for Rondo, a fellow Louisville native, in the NBA coincided with Erman's first.

"He's one of my favorite players," Erman said. "We just kind of hit it off."

Another point guard, Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson, said Erman has helped his transition to the NBA by instructing him on defensive techniques and team defensive principles while reminding him to stay on his toes.

"He's taught me a lot since I've been here," Jackson said. "He's intense at times, but at the same time, he's a player's coach."

Like Jackson, Jahlil Okafor played one season at Duke before being drafted into the NBA. A very skilled back-to-the-basket player, Okafor's major deficiency has been his defense.

With Davis playing fewer minutes, though, Okafor has taken on a larger role, and Erman has been watching film with Okafor throughout the 2018-19 season. He provides clips to Okafor after every game, demonstrating what he has done well and what he needs to improve upon. He has been teaching him where to position on help-side defense and pick-and-rolls.

"It's no secret that his niche is on the defensive side of the ball." Okafor said. "I'm grateful to learn from him on a day-to-day basis … I still have a lot of work to be done, but I can say that I think I have improved with his help."

Darren Erman

Erman's most impressive coaching may have occurred in Golden State, where he helped Klay Thompson become a lockdown defender. Steph Curry said Erman taught him how to better handle screens by spinning off them.

In his first season on the Golden State coaching staff, the Warriors ranked 28th in defensive rating. Under Erman's watch the Warriors' defense steadily improved each season, rising to fourth in defensive rating in 2013–14.

The Warriors' defensive turnaround is a major reason Gentry hired Erman.

"When I got the job," Gentry said, "he was the first guy I thought about."

***

In the summer before coaching at St. Anthony, Erman, who is Jewish, was a counselor at Seeds of Peace, a leadership development camp in Maine, which was focusing on conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians.

One of the camp's board of directors, then-sports agent Arn Tellem, brought in some players, including Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, T.J. Ford and Scalabrine, to speak to the campers.

Erman asked Scalabrine, who was then with the New Jersey Nets, if he needed any help with his basketball camps. Erman wrote down his phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Scalabrine, who then called him and even let Erman crash at his place while he worked at his camp.

"If I wasn't a counselor at the camp or Scalabrine didn't call me after our 15-minute interaction, I probably wouldn't be in the NBA," Erman said. "This is how random life is."

After coaching at St. Anthony, he became Scalabrine's individual development coach. When Scalabrine joined the Celtics, Erman followed him to Boston while also volunteering as a coach at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Erman worked Tim Grgurich's camp in Las Vegas. Several Celtics players, including Tony Allen, Delonte West and Ryan Gomes, attended it, and he began to train them once he returned to Boston.

While working out Allen around midnight one night, Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca saw him, and he began doing the same with the owner's kids, two of whom played at Duke.

That helped lead to a four-year stint with the Celtics, where he became a jack of all trades from 2007 to 2011. As a coaching assistant, Erman did everything from rebounding shots during late-night sessions for the players to writing reports on opposing players, including their tendencies and favorite plays.

In his first year with the team, the Celtics won the NBA Finals. After just two years coaching high school and two years coaching college, he had become a champion at the highest level.

Darren Erman "I've been pretty lucky," he said.

Erman had been offered a job as a baseball agent, and his legal background might have seemed better suited for a front-office basketball job where he could negotiate contracts and manage the salary cap.

"I considered it," Erman said. "It's just the path unfolded more for coaching."

He did work with general manager Danny Ainge at times with the Celtics and met with the Warriors about front-office opportunities, but ultimately Warriors head coach Mark Jackson brought him in as a player development assistant six weeks later.

In 2013 he led the Warriors to the summer league title and during his final year with the team he drew up plays during timeouts.

About a month before firing Jackson in 2014, the Warriors dismissed Erman for a violation of company policy. Erman declined comment about it, but the dismissal didn't dampen his NBA prospects. The Celtics brought him back as their director of scouting shortly thereafter, and Gentry, a former Warriors assistant coach, then hired Erman in 2015 as a Pelicans coach.

"He has an unbelievable passion for it. His work ethic is second to none," Gentry said. "As far as preparation, I guarantee we are as prepared as any team out there from a defensive standpoint."

It's an NBA career that one could never have envisioned when he left his law practice.

His mother, a University of Louisville secretary, and father, a podiatrist, had to have been concerned about him leaving a high-paying legal position with job security to go into coaching, though they did not verbally express it. They remained supportive and never pushed him to go back to a career in law.

"They kind of always knew I loved basketball more than anything," Erman said.

-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.