Tom Thibodeau has won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics, a gold medal with Team USA and been hired to take over the Minnesota Timberwolves and remake them to fit a vision he has carefully honed over the last two decades.
Among all those sporting highs over a long career, one day stands out as much as any other. There was no trophy to raise, medal to don or speech to give. It was the day he spent at a summer practice watching Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots work.
“It was one of the great days of my life,” Thibodeau said.
As Belichick prepares to lead his Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl on Sunday, he will have few bigger fans than the hard-driving coach and president of the Wolves. Thibodeau grew up a Patriots fan in Connecticut and has long been an admirer of the work Belichick has done to mold them into the NFL’s model franchise.
“I think he’s the greatest football coach of all time,” Thibodeau said. “What he’s done is utterly amazing.”
Thibodeau met Belichick through Doc Rivers while he was an assistant in Boston, but it wasn’t until he was the head coach in Chicago that mutual friend Tony La Russa arranged for Thibodeau to visit the Pats during organized team activities in 2012. Once there, Thibodeau got a peek behind the curtain of the New England dynasty, and it left quite an impression.
“Bill’s eyes are everywhere. There was so much precision to it,” Thibodeau said. “It was great to watch. You can see why they’ve had all the success they’ve had. The concentration in the meetings, you can see how clear and concise the communication was. They were going into the break before fall camp.”
The two have maintained contact ever since, sporadically swapping text messages. Thibs said he hopes to return to Patriots camp next summer now that he does not have Team USA duties occupying his time when the Patriots are working.
“Just to maintain that standard of excellence,” Thibodeau said of Belichick and La Russa. “They have standards and they don’t compromise. They coach hard and there’s no nonsense. Whatever comes their way, they handle it and handle adversity when it comes and they just get past it. No matter what it is, there is no excuse making. They just find a way to get it done.”
THE WEEK AHEAD
— Brooklyn at Miami, Monday. The suddenly red-hot Heat have the longest winning streak in the NBA at seven. With home games against Atlanta and Philadelphia later in the week, 10 straight isn’t out of the question.
— Sacramento at Philadelphia, Monday. Really? Yeah. Kings have won three of four and Philly eight of 11, so it should be a fun one.
— Dallas at Portland, Friday. The improving Mavericks come back to Portland, where Wes Matthews is still beloved even after he locked up Damian Lillard on the final play of a Mavs win in December.
— Cleveland at New York, Saturday. It’s always a party when LeBron is in Manhattan, and Phil Jackson’s remarks earlier in the year should only have King James more motivated.
— Los Angeles Clippers at Boston, Sunday. Paul Pierce back in Boston one last time for a matinee that should end with plenty of time for fans to get home to watch the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Paul Millsap, Atlanta. The 37 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists in a win over the Knicks on Sunday were impressive. But the most unbelievable number: 60. Millsap played 60 minutes, including 35 in a row, in the four-overtime thriller that stands right up there as one of the very best games of the season. He became just the 13th player since 1983-84 to play at least 60 minutes in a game, according to basketball-reference.com.