March 09, 2011
The Chicago Bulls are riding high with coach Tom Thibodeau manning the ship. But even before the NBA's likely Coach of the Year took to the court in 2010-11, President Barack Obama was well on board with his adopted hometown team's choice for head coach. To hear the Prez tell it -- according to Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf -- Thibodeau was a "great hire."
Because even the most glorious and productive of presidential administrations will boast millions of fervent detractors, aligning yourself with a president and his staff very closely will lose you some fans. But that doesn't matter to Reinsdorf, who proudly told the Chicago Sun-Times recently that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan first recommended Thibodeau as a candidate for the Bulls' post three years ago.
Never mind that the Bulls decided not to hire Thibodeau, despite the recommendation. Reinsdorf pointed out that Thibodeau's employer back in 2008, the Boston Celtics, wouldn't allow Thibs to speak with the Bulls until after the playoffs -- and the C's won the championship in late June of that year.
Still, then wait until after the finals, Jerry. Because Duncan (a former Harvard point guard who played professionally in Australia) knew what he was talking about. And especially because Vinny Del Negro was your consolation prize.
It was worth the wait, though. Had Thibodeau been hired in 2008, his style may have grated on the Bulls to a breaking point by this time, and his work with this 44-18 team has been masterful in his rookie year. Also to hear Reinsdorf tell it, Duncan's two bosses saw this coming a mile away.
"When the job was open again, I talked to Duncan several times on the subject, and he still strongly recommended Thibodeau,'' Reinsdorf recalled. ‘‘So we hired him. Then in July 2010, the White Sox were playing in Washington, and we invited President Obama to come to the game.
‘‘First, David Axelrod [then Obama's senior adviser] arrived and said, ‘Thanks for hiring Thibodeau.' Then a little while later, President Obama came in and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Great hire.'"
Two years too late, but, yes. Great hire.
And because he's Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls owner has high hopes for his team. Perhaps a little too high.
Though Chicago has been bounced out of the first round of the playoffs two years running, and has made it to the second round of the playoffs just once in the last 13 years, Reinsdorf sees something in this team that even Michael Jordan's Bulls couldn't accomplish without massive roster overhaul back in the 1990s:
‘‘If you don't see something special in Derrick Rose(notes), then you're blind,'' Reinsdorf said. ‘‘We have an outstanding coach, an outstanding bunch of players, the team is deep, and if we stay healthy, we have an awfully good chance of winning at least four championships.''
Guh. First, Jerry, let this team win 45 games, which it has a chance to do on Wednesday in Charlotte. Secondly, Jordan's Bulls had to completely retool their roster following their third championship to even have a shot at a fourth championship. Shaq and Kobe couldn't win "at least" four rings, and Kobe Bryant's(notes) newest Laker dynasty is having a truly tough time trying to pull out a third ring this season.
The Chicago Bulls are the NBA's best story. The team plays far better than the sum of its parts, is the league's top defensive outfit and Derrick Rose is a whirling dervish down the stretch of games.
Still, the team is just 19th in offense, has yet to be tested in any meaningful way (these regular-season wins against tough teams are nice, but the playoffs are something else altogether) and there is the very good chance that even the president's top choice as coach could wear on his players like he wears on his larynx every game night. You can only schedule practices during Bears playoff games for so long (as Thibs did last January), even with a roster as devoted as this.
So, yes, great story. Fun team, and one that represents my hometown in ways that make me beam with pride.
But "at least four championships"? Let's first just make it to the second week of May.