Sam Smith, perhaps the sports writer closest to Phil Jackson, the soon-to-be-retiring Zen Master for the Los Angeles Lakers, dubbs Thibs, the first year Chicago Bulls coach, as the new Zen Master. Intriguing, and even plausible.
There always has been a Zen Master in the NBA. Red Auerbach was perhaps the first, which may be why he and Phil Jackson were so at odds, because they really were so alike. Red was a teacher, as all the great coaches truly are, and one whose mantra of sacrifice and teamwork transcended the individual. Phil Jackson most popularized this Zen appellation, but it perhaps is best represented now by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who Sunday accepted the award for the 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year, the Red Auerbach trophy.
Tom Thibodeau really is the NBA’s Zen Master.
I was awakened to this notion in discussions with a friend of mine, Erv Ruhl, a retired psychology professor from Fresno State. Erv had been struck by a comment Kyle Korver made after the Bulls clinched the Pacers series. Someone asked about the Bulls looking ahead and Korver interrupted with a quip about whether the questioner knew the Bulls coach, a guy named Tom Thibodeau, whom we know chants the “one game at a time” mantra. But more than that, as Erv pointed out, Thibodeau has raised basketball teaching to an existential level. Bulls players now universally see the season and the playoffs only as far as the next practice, the next play, the next game.
It’s all they talk about, less rhetoric than lifestyle.
It’s something of the ultimate for a coach and teacher. Players routinely offer doltish clichés about one at a time. The Bulls believe it and live it like few teams I’ve ever been around because of Thibodeau.
Thibodeau doesn’t say it that way. But Bulls players have embraced the journey. They know now instinctively a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, that the jug fills only drop by drop.
Yes, classic Eastern philosophy.
And then there’s Thibs’:
“When you get a team that truly commits and everyone puts everything they have into it every day you don’t have to worry about anything else,” Thibodeau said at his press conference at the Berto Center Sunday. “You’ve done all that you can do. And that’s how I measure success. We know if we are doing the right thing every day, good will come.”
It’s one thing to promulgate those views, but then another to issue the imperative that resonates with the group. It’s the ultimate hope of the teacher. It is the Thibodeau liturgy repeated. Not championships or awards or matchups but doing your job hour by hour, day by day and being satisfied knowing you are prepared and taught the correct way that you will achieve what you are due to achieve.
The teacher opens the door, but you enter by yourself.
(click here to continue reading Thibs is Coach of Year and Zen Master | Blogs.Bulls.com.)
I will say that this year’s Bulls have been the most fun Bulls team to watch in a long, long time. Besides the rapid, explosive growth of Derrick Rose into super-stardom, there isn’t anyone else on the team who is a stellar, transcendent talent, and yet they won the most games of anyone in the league this year. Will they win a championship? I’d like to say yes, because I want them to succeed, but I’d be surprised if they did. But that’s looking too far ahead. Better just to watch each game and then go from there. You know, Thibs-like.
The Tribune Bulls beat writer, K.C. Johnson, adds about the Coach of the Year award:
The ritual became a game among the Bulls, no matter the player, no matter the hour.
Enter the Berto Center for a workout and glance up at the office window on the far north side of the building to see if Tom Thibodeau’s light was on.
“I don’t know if he gets here at 5 or 6 a.m.,” Luol Deng said. “But he’s here early. And he’s the last to leave.”
Joakim Noah put it more colorfully earlier this season.
“It’s kind of annoying,” he said playfully. “He lives at the gym. You can’t get away from him.”
Thibodeau’s tireless work ethic has led to success.
Capping his history-making rookie season, Thibodeau ran away with NBA Coach of the Year honors on Sunday, earning 76 first-place votes and landing on 113 of 119 ballots to post 475 points, far surpassing former Bulls and current 76ers coach Doug Collins. The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Nuggets’ George Karl rounded out the top four.
Thibodeau, who tied Paul Westphal’s NBA record for most victories by a first-year coach at 62-20, joins Phil Jackson, Dick Motta and Johnny “Red” Kerr as franchise winners of Coach of the Year. He’s also the seventh first-year coach in NBA history to win the award, joining a list that includes Kerr and Thibodeau’s former boss in Boston, Doc Rivers, who texted him congratulations.
(click here to continue reading Chicago Bulls: Tom Thibodeau NBA’s Coach of the Year – chicagotribune.com.)