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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rest in Peace, Johnny Bach

One of the best things about getting a press pass to an NBA game is the opportunity to interview and interact with basketball lifers who truly know and love the sport; most of my favorite memories from covering the NBA revolve around the time I spent with these wise basketball lifers--and Johnny Bach, who passed away on Monday at the age of 91, is one of my most special interview subjects. I first spoke with him early in my NBA writing career and I found him to be very generous with his time and his knowledge. One interview with Johnny Bach provided enough material for at least half a dozen articles on a variety of basketball-related subjects. He spoke the truth and did not care if that offended anyone. I just read an article that suggested that when Jerry Krause wanted to trade Scottie Pippen and asked the Chicago Bulls' coaching staff to vote on it, Bach declared that anyone who thinks a vote is necessary is an idiot. Pippen was an all-time great, Bach knew it and he did not want to waste time arguing about it. I don't know if that story is true but it is believable: Bach understood basketball and he had no patience for nonsense. Krause got rid of Bach shortly after that incident but a decade later Bach had a second run with the Bulls (after the Bulls got rid of Krause) and that is when I had the great fortune to speak with Bach.

Among the subjects we discussed were the greatness of the underrated Mark Price, The Art and Science of NBA Defense and the way that Phil Jackson put Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on opposing teams in practice, which inspired one of my questions when I later scored a one on one interview with Pippen. Bach could turn a phrase as well as any writer. Two of my favorite Bach expressions relate to Michael Jordan: the "Archangel" offense and "attack the citadels," referring to how relentlessly the young Jordan drove to the hoop.

Bach was a man in full who knew about and experienced a lot more than basketball. He served in World War II and later in life he became an accomplished painter. Sam Smith, one of the classiest and best writers I encountered during my time covering the NBA, has penned a must-read tribute to Bach in which Smith calls Bach "one of the truly great Americans of the 20th Century" and adds, "I'd exaggerate Johnny's accomplishments if I could, but I’d only end up falling short. This was truly a remarkable and skilled man, principled in his commitment to his nation and his profession, articulate and endearing, tough and scholarly with a passion for learning and sharing. Johnny reached the apex of pretty much every profession and discipline he encountered."

Phil Jackson authored a tribute to Bach as well. Jackson praised Bach's immense contributions to the Chicago Bulls' 1991-93 championship teams and concluded with these fitting words: "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."

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM



At Friday, January 22, 2016 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Bach will be missed and the tributes from Jackson and Smith are touching. One of the underappreciated things about the 90s Bulls is their personell and coaching talent. There was Phil Jackson of course but both Tex Winter and Johnny Bach had strong head coaching resumes in their own right. Both of them were incredibly knowledgable. I am of the understanding that Tex has had health issues as of late as well and it will be unfortunate when we no longer have either of them with us anymore.


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