Phil Jackson on Johnny Bach

In October of 1987, I joined the Chicago Bulls coaching staff as an assistant. The staff consisted of Doug Collins (a young 37-year-old head coach), Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, and myself. I was hired to get out on the road and scout the league, while the two "older" coaches were to stay with the team during training camp and preseason games. Tex Winter was a personal friend of the GM, Jerry Krause, for many years and had been hired to be the "coach's coach" according to Jerry. Johnny Bach was on Doug Collin's Olympic coaching staff in the 72' Olympics. Bach was knowledgeable about the East Coast game and could tell a great story. He was fascinating and vibrant—an evangelist. Winter, on the other hand, was knowledgeable about the West Coast game and knew all the educators of the game. Tex would go to bed at 10pm on an off night, while Johnny would stay at the bar and tell stories late into the night. Tex was dogmatic about the game and the way it should be played, whereas John was about "let's get this hand to hand conflict on". I was their student for 2 years. I thought I knew the NBA game, which I did, but I didn't know the history of the game of basketball.

Johnny Bach and I had the job as video recorders to set up the pre-game tapes for our next opponents. These video recorders were new devices that would let us cut and paste tape into 7-10 min videos of the coming opponents. We would get competitive about our product trying to outdo each other's edits. Johnny would end his tapes with an ace of spades on a rifle butt signifying an enemy kill. He talked in WWII terminology. My generation protested the Vietnam conflict and I'd end mine with Jimi Hendrix's anthem at Woodstock or Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”. One day John was preparing a video of MKE Bucks and called me over to the video editor. "Check this out", he said. "Del Harris has started using Horst Pinholster's Pinwheel offense." There wasn't much you could put by John Bach and he loved defense. Many people don't know that when I was given the job as the Bulls coach I named John as the defensive coordinator, but knew Tex was the offensive coordinator. That early Bulls team was a terror on defense with Pippen, Jordan, and Grant as the Dobermans of D. We had 3 types of presses besides a full court man-to-man press that put teams under duress. John was the defensive teacher of that first 3-Peat team.

Johnny Bach was an identical twin. This brother was lost to him during WWII. He was a pilot in the Pacific and one day, did not return on a mission. John, a gunner ensign, would get his pilot's license and wear his brother's wings as a bracelet on his wrist. He loved to fly. One day when the team was in Pittsburg for a preseason game, John was out all afternoon—he was a man, who loved to explore. That night at the game he took off his shirt and proudly showed us his full fighting eagle tattooed on his chest. Tonight I'll think of him and that spirit he embodied, especially his motto after a late night on the road. "What? You can't be tired, you can sleep in the grave." Sleep well, Johnny.