The relationship between Mike James and Tom Thibodeau goes all the way back to the 2004-05 season, when James was a reserve guard for a Houston Rockets team that featured Thibodeau as the lead assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy. Both James and Thibodeau quickly formed a bond, and the two men still share similar work ethics at their respective jobs.
So, if any Chicago Bulls player knows his head coach best, it’s James. Thibodeau commands respect, hard work and tireless preparation out of his team – all traits James believes make Thibodeau one of the few guys in the NBA who truly love the game.
“Coach is dedicated to the game,” James told me Friday night in a phone interview. “There are only a few people that are married to this game, and Coach is married to this game. And he doesn’t do it for a show – he’s a true general. He keeps a tight ship and he expects his players to play a certain way. Also, his preparation … where we’ll go over our plays until he almost beats it in us.”
Over the past two years, Thibodeau has made a concerted effort to give his players as much information as possible. Heading into a game, he constantly drills the team’s game plan – as well as the opposing squad’s – into their heads and makes sure they execute it.
“It’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared, and Coach makes sure that we’re exactly overprepared,” James said. “Whenever we go into a game, he gives us every detail and he’s a person who has attention to detail. He makes sure that things have to be a certain way and you have to respect that about him. I don’t know too many coaches that are as dedicated as him … that’s just his loyalty to the game itself.”
All the hours spent studying in the office at the Berto Center have paid off for Thibodeau. He was last season’s Coach of the Year; earned the right to coach the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Stars and has won five of the nine available Coach of the Month awards. Many NBA followers believe Thibodeau is the front-runner to win the Coach of the Year honor this year, which would make him the first coach to claim the award in consecutive seasons.
James endorsed Thibodeau for the prestigious award this season due to the fact that the Bulls have compiled the league’s best record at 48-16 even though key players such as Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng have each missed double-digit games.
“Whatever accolades he gets in this game, he deserves it, because he works hard, nothing is given,” James said of Thibodeau. “He understands nothing is guaranteed, so every single game he approaches it a certain way.”