Bobcats’ Clifford has respect, admiration for Thibodeau


Nov 18

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is known for his serious nature, intense preparation, and consistent drive to make his team better.

His focus is solely on basketball and he rarely strays off topic into anything remotely personal. But a good friend of his, first-year Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, was happy to share a few tidbits on how Thibodeau has impacted his career prior to Monday’s game.

“He’s a great guy,” said Clifford of Thibodeau. “On a personal note, he’s one of my closest friends, and then on a professional note, he’s very much a mentor to me. When I joined the Knicks 14 years ago, for whatever reason, he decided to take me under his wing, teach me a lot. Not just X’s and O’s, but how to talk to the players, how the players think, and he still helps me to this day.”

"He’s worked extremely hard to get this opportunity and I think he’s well prepared for it," said Thibodeau of Clifford.

“He’s worked extremely hard to get this opportunity and I think he’s well prepared for it,” said Thibodeau of Clifford.

Clifford went on to recall a visit in September when he flew to Chicago and spent the day with Thibodeau.

“[We] talked about everything from X’s and O’s, to organizational things, to staff things, to leadership things,” said Clifford. “Look, to be a really good coach in this league, one of the better coaches—which he’s as good as it gets—you have to be good at everything, and to me, that’s what he is.”

Following in Thibodeau’s footsteps would be a remarkable accomplishment for Clifford, whom Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan hired to replace Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford applauded Chicago’s well-rounded attack, one that he’d like to implement in Charlotte.

“I think the reason why they win is balanced play,” Clifford said of the Bulls. “Everybody talks about their defense, which is obviously elite. But when they’re healthy, ever since he’s been here, they’ve been good at everything. They rebound the ball well, they’re good defensively, and they’ve been very good offensively also.”

Thibodeau routinely is credited for his team’s defense success—since his arrival in 2011, the Bulls have ranked no longer than 3rd in the NBA in scoring defense—but Clifford insists he knows what he’s doing on the offensive end as well.

“I mean, look at their execution; look at how they play,” said Clifford. “They play a way that leads to winning and leads to playoff execution. They play playoff-style basketball 82 times a year, so they’re preparing for the games they need to prepare for.”

Thibodeau was also complementary of Clifford when asked about his counterpart.

“He’s a good friend,” said Thibodeau. “He’s worked extremely hard to get this opportunity and I think he’s well prepared for it. He’s put together a great staff—Patrick Ewing, Bob Beyer, Bob Weiss, Mark Price—and I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Like Thibodeau, it took Clifford many seasons to acquire a head coaching job. In Clifford’s case, he brought 28 years of coaching experience at the NBA and collegiate level to Charlotte, including spending the previous 13 seasons as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers. But Thibodeau didn’t want to make too many comparisons.

“Everyone’s path is different,” said Thibodeau. “Sometimes you can be penalized in this league if you’re with a good team. If you win every year, sometimes you don’t get an opportunity as fast as others. The whole trick is to be ready when the opportunity comes.”


Speaking of coaches looking for that opportunity, Bobcats associate head coach and Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing hopes he will someday land a top job.

Thibodeau was an assistant coach for the Knicks from 1996 to 2003, and he’s a believer that the time for Ewing, who entered the NBA as a rookie in 1985 and spent 15 of his 17 professional seasons in New York, will come.

“I think it will happen,” said Thibodeau of Ewing and a head coaching job. “He’s very deserving and unfortunately for him, he’s a guy that’s done it the right way. He was a great player. You can’t imagine how hard that guy worked each and every day to achieve the greatness that he did. He’s prepared himself and worked under a number of great coaches.”

Thibodeau sees Ewing’s experiences with Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy–whether he played for them or coached with them–as factors that will be on his side.

“When the opportunity comes, I think he’s going to do a great job,” said Thibodeau.

“We’ll see, only time will tell,” said Ewing, who then smiled. “Thibs waited 20 something years. I’m not waiting that long.”

Ewing, who has served as an assistant coach the Washington Wizards (2002-03), Houston Rockets (2003-06) and Orlando Magic (2007-12), isn’t surprised at all about how well Thibodeau has done with his first head coaching job.

“I knew he was good but nobody knew how good he was going to be,” said Ewing of Thibodeau. “He’s done an outstanding job and I’m very happy for him.

“It’s his total knowledge, not just his defense,” added Ewing of Thibodeau’s success. “They’re an all-around team; there’s not just one specific thing they’re good at.”

Audio—Thibodeau talks about working with Clifford over the years (11.18.2013):

Audio—Clifford on his relationship with Thibodeau (11.18.2013):

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