2021 Hall of Fame Notes: MJ's impact on Kukoc, Dick Motta's HOF candidacy, and more

Sam Smith reflects on the Hall of Fame candidacy of former Bulls coach Dick Motta
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


One of the favorite games for Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame weekend is to guess who else should be there. Where are players like Shawn Kemp, Tim Hardaway, Chauncey Billups, Lou Hudson and Larry Costello? Or contributors like Johnny Kerr and Doug Collins? And Class of 2021 member Rick Adelman wants to know about his Bulls coach, Dick Motta.

The 90-year old Motta remains the second winningest coach in Bulls history even though he hasn't coached a game for the Bulls in 45 years. Motta coached the Washington Bullets to a title in 1978 after leaving the Bulls and has 935 NBA wins, the 13th most alltime. All with more wins are in the Hall of Fame except for active Gregg Popovich and George Karl. They figure to be.

Adelman, who played for Motta and the Bulls from 1973-75, says NBA coaches typically have been overlooked because they often inherit such poor teams and pile up losses, as Motta did with 1,017. Adelman said coaches like Motta with a history of building teams like the old Bulls and the expansion Dallas Mavericks should be recognized as well for being in demand to coach almost 2,000 NBA games.

Rick Adelman coaching the Trailblazers during a game against the Bulls

In addition, Adelman, who is being recognized in Saturday's enshrinement ceremonies primarily for his great coaching run with the Portland Trailblazers, credits Motta and his system of play for inspiring an early 70s Bulls college of coaches that rivaled even Red Auerbach's with the Boston Celtics.

During Motta's eight often stormy seasons with the Bulls from 1968 through 1976 when they became the most feared defensive team in the NBA with a durable forward-oriented offense, the Bulls produced four NBA head coaches. Two, Adelman and Jerry Sloan, went on to the Hall of Fame. And two others, Bobby Weiss and Matt Guokas, each coached more than 500 NBA games.

Dick Motta coaching the Bulls in 1975

"When I got there practicing against Jerry and Bob was a lot of fun," Adelman said during a Friday afternoon media conference. "I think because of the type of team we had with Dick Motta as coach. He's one of those guys who I think about as NBA coaches who are not in the Hall of Fame, and Dick Motta should be there. He had a system where you really had to think about the game; you knew you had to play hard but stay within the system. I feel the players from that team learned that and afterward a lot were ready to coach. It was the whole experience around that team in Chicago that was unbelievable.

"Sloan, Norm Van Lier (who coached briefly in the CBA), Bob Love, Chet Walker, Tom Boerwinkle, intelligent players," recalled Adelman. "It was a great group to work with and learn the game of basketball from."

Toni Kukoc in the Hall of Fame coat and backdrop

The Bulls highlight of the weekend is the enshrinement Saturday of Toni Kukoc. Bulls governor Jerry Reinsdorf, team president Michael Reinsdorf and basketball head Arturas Karnisovas are expected in Springfield Saturday to support Kukoc. Jerry Reinsdorf and Michael Jordan will be on stage as presenters during Kukoc's speech.

"I don't think there is a better person than Michael and Jerry Reinsdorf to be there," Kukoc said in his media conference remarks. "Michael has impacted my life in every way possible. I always came to the NBA with having a chance to play with Michael and hopefully winning a championship. The start was unfortunate in losing his father and took that chance away from me the first two years. But it is well known when he first came back. That probably was the greatest time I had in basketball.

"He wasn't the nicest of teammates in the way he was pushing everyone to practice," Kukoc related. "It was our practices that were actually harder that the games we played and it was all because Michael and Scottie (Pippen) were there every day to make us believe there is always a chance to get better, there is always something new, something else to learn in the transition into the next game. And that's one of the biggest reasons why we had that kind of run and won three championships in a row."

Toni Kukoc and Michael Jordan

Kukoc also acknowledged being proud of his pioneering status for European players, who now have a big presence in the NBA.

"It was different times," Kukoc noted about his arrival with the Bulls in 1993. "People didn't actually know about us. They heard about us and maybe saw us play one or two games, maybe five games. We were pioneers coming into the NBA. And now everybody knows about these players coming into the NBA. I am hoping we were kind of those teaching the guys, to guide them to the NBA. There was a time in the 1990s when the NBA became a global game and not just an American game and opened the world to the NBA and we were a part of that."

Former Bulls center Ben Wallace, who played two seasons for the Bulls after his run with the Detroit Pistons, will be honored among the players in the 2021 class. And former Bull coach Vinny Del Negro at the Friday night awards dinner was honored as one of the winners of the Manny Jackson Spirit award for his charitable work and commitment to the game.


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