(CBS) Hall of Fame writer Sam Smith penned an eloquent piece on the divorce between the Bulls and Tom Thibodeau that came Thursday when the coach was fired after five successful-but-rocky seasons in Chicago. Smith weaves in perspective from his many years around the game to explain the issues from both sides and why a breakup is sometimes best for everyone involved.
Along the way, Smith also shares a story on Thibodeau’s relentlessness that both makes you chuckle and shake your head. Back in summer 2011, Thibodeau was tabbed with throwing out the first pitch of a game between the Cubs and White Sox.READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Jury Could Get Case As Trial Resumes Monday
Thibodeau took the task seriously — like really seriously. He went out and practiced hard before stepping into the spotlight.READ MORE: Chicago Teachers Union Demanding Action After Over 100 People In Woodlawn In Quarantine
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Thibodeau enlisted a Bulls staffer and he went out and purchased several dozen baseballs a few days before the game. Then after a typical offseason day of preparing for the NBA draft and already combing game film for next season, they adjourned to a nearby baseball field.
Thibodeau went to the mound about 50 feet away with the bucket of baseballs and started throwing one after another until sweat was pouring off him on the hot, humid afternoon. For perhaps an hour, Thibs practiced his throw. Almost all of them were perfect as Thibs still is a pretty good athlete and despite a late night appetite still was in good shape before knee surgery to come. But another and another. Like his practices and walk-throughs in his philosophy of life and basketball, it’s in the preparation and the building of habits.
But there was more than just throwing the ball.
Thibs practiced walking the 50 or 60 feet back and forth; he practiced a wave, which he would do so casually and professionally that night. A little league team showed up after a while to practice on the field. Thibs persuaded them to give him a little more time and again he went through the routine as they watched.
That drive is what made Thibodeau one of the top coaches in the NBA and, in the minds of some, led to his exit in Chicago.