Bach: Basketball legend, mentor and wonderful company

At 88 years old, former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach has as sharp and penetrating mind about basketball--and most everything else--as perhaps anyone Sam Smith knows.

There’s hasn’t been much to celebrate in New York City lately with the terrible effects of Hurricane Sandy. But I have to offer a big smile for Monday night’s Fordham University basketball tipoff dinner when Patrick Ewing will receive the first annual Johnny Bach Award.

“It’s nice that Fordham remembered,” said Bach, the one-time Bulls assistant who remains Fordham’s winningest coach despite leaving for Penn State and then the NBA more than 40 years ago. “I have great feelings for Fordham. And I'm delighted that Patrick Ewing will be the first recipient. Michael Jordan brought both of us in to coach in Washington. I'll kid him that no one took three steps to the basket as well as he did.”

That’s a nice summary of Bach as well, a basketball legend, mentor and wonderful company.

I caught up with Bach last week at home in downtown Chicago, and he’s preparing to donate another season to helping out with the Fenwick High School basketball team. Which is nice, though thinking of Bach makes me both angry and frustrated about our society, which has made Bach something of a victim because he dared age even though wise and gracefully.

Bach is 88 and has as sharp and penetrating mind about basketball — and most everything else — as perhaps anyone I know. Though Bach would never say so or go asking for a position, it’s an embarrassment to basketball that a man so knowledgeable and capable and anxious to help out has basically been shunned by the basketball world because of a number: His age.

Though it’s perhaps more a reflection of our society as a whole. We are in a hurry, perhaps more so than ever. Social media and the Internet seems to virtually put the information age out of business. The emphasis seems more on immediacy than content.

Johnny Bach is content perhaps like no one else in the basketball world.

He played in high school for Vince Lombardi and against the famed Harlem Rens. He fought in the Pacific in World War II. He played for the Boston Celtics in 1948. He was one of the youngest coaches ever in college at Fordham and was the defensive inspiration behind the Bulls first three championship teams as an assistant. He was a head coach with the Warriors and assistant in Charlotte, Detroit and Washington and on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team as well. I still frequently call Bach when I need help breaking down what some teams are doing. And not only do I get that, but often he’ll tell me the first coach ever to run that play and a story about his team. I know Bach would love to help some team or the league. Not to travel and sit on a bench, but provide the amazing expertise that perhaps no one remaining in basketball can claim.

Johnny would never say it, but don’t get old in this world and remain wise and aware.

We lose so much when we don’t listen and learn from those who went before us and experienced so much of what we can only just read about. It’s a failing of most sports other than baseball, forgetting the people who brought us our past and enriched our lives because they did. We should be grateful when they still are here to help guide and enrich us with the depth of their experience.

It should be a great night in New York Monday at the Grand Hyatt. Congratulations to Fordham for recognizing one of the greats of the game. I’m still hoping the NBA does.

Magic’s hard work paying dividends

-- Tuesday the Bulls host another one of those upstart NBA teams that thinks it has the right to beat a veteran group like the Bulls. Like the Hornets, for example. The Orlando Magic is 2-0 and against playoff competing Nuggets and Suns teams, both double digit wins. It was supposed to be a season of fighting off the historic worst record after the mess of Dwight Howard’s departure. Though it seems a dark cloud has been lifted from the players. “No agendas out there, no distractions,” said J.J. Redick, averaging 22.5 in two games. “Everything is more wholesome and pure now,” said Glen Davis, averaging 25.5 and nine rebounds. “When you’ve got guys who don’t want to be here, it’s funky. It’s just better when guys want to be here and buy into the culture.” Davis did add to the Orlando Sentinel, seriously, that “The thing we're going to miss most about Dwight is his farting ability." C’mon, you missed these guys. Admit it. The Magic is small with Davis and Nick Vucevic up front. But they work hard, defend and share the ball, attributes the Hornets used to beat the Bulls Saturday night.

“It’s a chance for players who haven’t gotten a chance to have an opportunity, guys like Vucevic, E’Twaun Moore, Gustavo Ayon, to showcase themselves,” said assistant general manager Matt Lloyd. The Magic is coming from nowhere so far, which is a story of Lloyd, who spent 17 years with the Bulls, most recently the director of scouting who was vital in the draft process. Many young people often ask me about how you get into sports, and Lloyd’s story is a wonderful example. He was a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago who got an internship doing low level video work for the White Sox as he began work in sports information at the university. From there, he had an internship at ESPN and got a job in media relations with the Bulls. From there he began doing work for John Paxson, which led to some scouting and unglamorous video room work and eventually a position with the team.

“This opportunity with the Magic only came about because of the kindness of John Paxson, of Gar Forman giving me the opportunity I never could have imagined, the guidance of (media relations director) Tim Hallam when I worked for him, and Jerry Krause teaching me so much about scouting and how to evaluate players,” said Lloyd. “What I am professionally I owe to them and Jerry Reinsdorf for being such a huge supporter and taking time to know me and share his knowledge about the business of the game. We’ve got a staff of 22 new people in Orlando. It’s an incredibly supportive ownership situation, like Chicago. We’ve got cap space, draft picks and young players to develop. It’s an exciting opportunity. It might be a road to hoe immediately, but we feel we’ve got a really good chance to be good and sustain that for a long time.” It’s been a surprisingly good start, and guys like Lloyd know about being doubted in unlikely scenarios. You work hard and you never know what could happen.

Rasheed New York’s version of Scalbrine?

-- Rasheed Wallace has become Brian Scalabrine. Ball don’t lie, after all. He’s now the pet who draws the fans chants, which for old Knicks fans harkens to Hawthorne Wingo. But the Knicks bigger issue may be if Amar’e Stoudemire can return. The Knicks have been sharp with Carmelo Anthony at power forward, a position that LeBron James has embraced as well. It gives them mismatches and often forces teams to downsize. It’s also helped the Knicks spread the court for shooters as they’ve made 24 threes in a 2-0 start. ... The Celtics may have set a record with Kevin Garnett calling a team meeting after their 0-2 start. I’m told it was actually to come up with plans to TP Ray Allen’s house. ... Tough 1-2 start for the Thunder, though Kevin Martin is back scoring big to replace James Harden. Still, it’s a storyline that will hang over the Thunder all season and who knows the level of distraction. “James was a good player, don't get me wrong,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the Oklahoman. “But he wasn't Dr. James. He wasn't helping the group stick together. All the guys did.” Perhaps a little defensive as there’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes criticism around the NBA of the Thunder not trying to at least keep Harden through the season and then make a decision if they couldn’t afford him long term. The Bulls see the new Thunder in a national TV game Thursday. Perhaps trying to show the Thunder can prosper without Harden and overcompansating, Russell Westbrook has had brutal finishes in both losses. ... Though Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is fairly unpopular among his peers the way he seems to delight in declaring himself the winner of most deals, the acquisition of Harden looks like all those sideways deals Houston has been making for three years are paying off. Yes, it’s early. But it’s not a fluke to average 35 points on 53 percent shooting in three games as Harden has. It’s no secret he’s a high level player, and last season I was among many who wrote he had the talent to be a team’s best player. But can he ever be a true winning player in Houston? If he is, he and Morey will have the last laugh. Though these days in the NBA it’s likely more a taunt.

NBA news and notes

-- Rough start for the Suns after blowing a 14-point lead in Orlando Sunday night. As suggested by some, it seems a poor personnel mix with a team that once moved the ball so well now dominated by one-on-one players with perhaps the first stagnant offense we’ve seen in Phoenix since the late 1960s. ... Somebody in the league office was obviously mad at the Nuggets with nine of their first 12 on the road and a predictable enough 0-3 start. ... Andre Iguodala, who talked about how happy he was to be freed from Doug Collins so he can shoot threes, is averaging 27 percent from long range for the Nuggets while also averaging four turnovers per game. The Nuggets are also giving up 102 per game. ... Collins seems to be taking a mystical page out of Phil Jackson’s repertoire, but with limited results so far. Collins said he told Evan Turner to watch The Legend of Bagger Vance movie for inspiration. Said Collins to Philadelphia media: "I'm a big karma guy. To me, Evan was Junuh and I was Will Smith. I was Bagger Vance. Will Smith would talk about the game, some tidbit, and all of a sudden the guy's unlocked. We've got to get Evan unlocked." Turner is averaging eight points and shooting 25 percent in a double bogey start. ... Two of the more unheralded offseason acquisitions were Carl Landry for Golden State, averaging 20 points and shooting 66 percent and Kyle Lowry in Toronto, averaging 23.7 points and seven assists while Raptors’ $20 million free agent Landry Fields is averaging 2.3 points on 21 percent shooting in about 22 minutes per game. While media and fans in most cities cheered the last minute extensions, there was general disappointment in Toronto the Raptors reupped DeMar DeRozan for almost $10 million a year. Media organizations characterized the move as “baffling.” Of course, they continue to say the same thing about our politics. ... Nice 2-0 start for the Bucks as coach Scott Skiles has quietly embraced small ball, which he’s always been best with. He’s barely playing Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla while using Larry Sanders at center. Working off his lack of an extension, Brandon Jennings is averaging 17 points and 13 assists and vastly outplayed Rajon Rondo in the opener in Boston. Point guards Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry all got extensions in the $10 million to $11 million annual range. Tyreke Evans also did not get an extension along with Darren Collison. ... Pacers players seemed annoyed as David West called it that “college system,” enabling the Bobcats to win their opener and break their 23-game losing streak. Said George Hill of coach Mike Dunlap using a matchup zone and full court pressure. “That’s what happens when you have a college coach. He brings that college mentality. It’s basically like we were playing college basketball (and) that caught us off guard. You have to tip your hat to their coach. They played with aggressiveness and tenacity on both ends of the floor.” Though many questioned Michael Jordan’s choice of Dunlap, a St, John’s assistant, he was an assistant with the Nuggets and was on the Bulls radar when they hired Vinny Del Negro. “We did interview him,” said Bulls executive John Paxson. “His name came up when we were looking at guys who had a reputation in developing players, which he did. I liked him because he was no nonsense and you could tell he had a disciplined approach to coaching and people.”

-- Big start for Jamal Crawford chasing another Sixth Man award averaging 25.7 on 54 percent shooting. And he doesn’t shoot many layups. Eric Bledsoe has also been impressive and they still have Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill out. Chris Paul is the biggest potential free agent after this season. But he’s not getting into any disruptive behavior. And the Clippers are doing what they can as Paul let it be known he’d love to play with buddy Willie Green and Matt Barnes, and they were acquired. Paul also lobbied Hill and Crawford to sign with the Clippers. Dwight Howard, of course, can also opt out. And though he now swears allegiance to the Lakers if things don’t go well we’ll likely hear him again ... The Suns opened to their smallest home crowd since moving to their arena in 1992. ... The two best teams against losing teams last season were the Pacers 27-4 and the Bulls 26-4. ... Seven footer DeMarcus Cousins is shooting 38 percent for the 0-3 Kings and was nine of 27 in the loss to the Pacers Saturday. But Keith Smart seems safe as Cousins had Paul Westphal fired last season after a bad start when Cousins wasn’t getting many shots. ... Terrible break for the Warriors Brandon Rush, who sustained an ACL tear and is out for the season, the second such injury in his career. He was in tears being carried from the court. With Rush’s injury the Warriors played one of the most quickly forgotten men in the NBA, Richard Jefferson, who had nine points.

-- Among the opening day fans rooting on the Bobcats was dismissed former coach Paul Silas. Good for him. You rarely see that. ... Hornets owner Tom Benson has talked about changing the team’s name, and Michael Jordan told the Charlotte Observer he’s be open to considering a return to Hornets. Jordan compared rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to Scottie Pippen: "He’s a very versatile guy. He’s motivated. He loves to play and play hard." ... Too bad for Eddy Curry, released after doing well with the Mavericks as Chris Kaman returned. Though as often as Kaman gets hurt they could be calling Eddy again. ... Curry is among those being patient as teams consider what they have. Among other big names still without teams are Derek Fisher, Baron Davis (rehabbing), Mickael Pietrus, Michael Redd, Kenyon Martin, Quentin Richardson, Erick Dampier, Greg Oden, Mehmet Okur, Maurice Evans, Jason Kopono and Ryan Gomes. OK, not so big names. ... It’s always dangerous to question a player’s health, but the mystery deepens in New Orleans with Eric Gordon, who has some sort of knee problems the team or he doesn’t much talk about even as surgery isn’t needed. The questions resonate because Gordon badly wanted to leave New Orleans and sign with the Suns, and when his picture was shown on the scoreboard at home he was booed vociferously. The Hornets had matched the Suns free agency offer and Gordon said his heart was in Phoenix. Many believe Gordon is trying to force the Hornets to trade him, though Gordon says he has serious pain. I’m also reminded of the case of baseball pitcher James Rodney Richard, whom media and fans accused of faking injury. Not long after he suffered a stroke. Though he hadn’t openly declared his love for another franchise, as Gordon has. Gordon missed 57 games last season with knee problems. The Hornets signed Gordon to a four-year $58 million contract, which may be the real bounty-gate. ... Though Omer Asik doesn’t speak with media much, if at all, Houston GM Morey said he’d been in the kind of player who can help draw free agents. Asik is averaging 14.3 rebounds in 34.7 minutes, though still shooting just 35 percent. Said Morey: “The way Omer is playing and passing the ball, people want to be with him.” Added Morey to Houston media after signing Harden: “Now we need to add another player, or have one of our current players develop. You need two All-Stars to win in this league. We’re not there yet. But he changes the whole dynamic.” And coach Kevin McHale knows there are no limitations on former Sixth Man of the Year winners. He was twice and is in the Hall of Fame. ... When Houston lost in overtime at home after opening with two wins as Harden starred, it was a rookie beating them with Portland’s Damian Lillard with eight points and two assists in the overtime period to lead Portland. Impressive stuff for a rookie. Said coach Terry Stotts: “He doesn’t shy from the moment.” Lillard became the first player to score at least 20 points in his first three NBA games since Grant Hill in 1994 and joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to record at least 20 points and seven assists in their first three games. Only Lillard, Roberston and Isiah Thomas have had at least 20 and 10 assists in their NBA debuts. Lillard admitted when he first heard he thought he’d joined Isaiah Thomas of the Kings. ... It’s not like the Lakers saved Mike Brown’s job by beating the Pistons Sunday to win their first game since last spring. Kobe Bryant likes Brown and so does Jim Buss, who is running the team now and regards Brown as his choice. Brown’s not going anywhere. Though Charles Barkley got off a good one last week as TNT commentators were demolishing the Lakers new “Princeton” offense, saying he wants his accountant from Princeton and not his offense. Though at times early in Phil Jackson’s tenure they were saying around the league the famed “Triangle” was three ways to get the ball to Michael Jordan.


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