Jim Boylen knows his responsibility as Bulls head coach will be to 'build our culture in a positive way'

Jim Boylen knows his responsibility as Bulls head coach will be to 'build our culture in a positive way'

Jim Boylen isn’t here to be a stopgap. The word interim was never used in the minutes and hours after the Bulls fired Fred Hoiberg and announced the 53-year-old Boylen was taking over. The Bulls believe their current core group has the talent to push the rebuild forward; John Paxson said as much.

But the hope and expectation is that Boylen will be able to provide the finishing touches, creating a positive environment that breeds competitive spirit and energy on a nightly basis, and ultimately creates on-court success.

“I feel I’m the guy for it,” Boylen said during his introductory press conference on Monday at the Advocate Center. “I don’t think anyone has a better vantage point of who this team is, what it was, what it can be than me. And from the experiences that I’ve had and where I’ve been, who I’ve been with, I’m going to try and use all that to make us into a better ball club and to build our culture in a positive way.’’

Paxson called Boylen a basketball “lifer” on Monday, and it’s not far off. The Michigan native began his coaching career in 1987 under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. He remained there for five years before beginning his NBA coaching career, acting as an assistant coach in Houston under Rudy Tomjonavich from 1992 to 2003. The Rockets won two titles in the non-Jordan years, and Boylen moved on from Houston in 2003, taking on assistant roles with Golden State and Milwaukee for a year apiece.

He went back to the collegiate ranks under Izzo in 2005 and then took the Utah head coaching job in 2007, where he won 64 games in four seasons and made an NCAA Tournament appearance. He was fired after a 13-18 season in 2011.

From there he latched on with the Pacers in 2011, remained there until 2013 when Gregg Popovich hired him as an assistant. He won his third NBA title with the Spurs in 2014 and stayed another year when Hoiberg came calling in 2015, making him the No. 2 man in Chicago post-Tom Thibodeau.

Suffice it to say, after eight different stops over a 31-year period that Boylen has seen what works, what doesn’t and how to implement the former instead of the latter. The Bulls are certainly investing in him, giving him a permanent title through at least next season – the length of his contract – as opposed to tagging him the interim and letting the season play out.

“The things that we believe Jim has with him are a lot of the intangibles that head coaches have. He has a passion and an energy to him that I think our players will respond to,” Paxson said. “It’s different when you’re an assistant than when you’re a head coach. I think he’ll be able to take his personality and get these guys to buy in to what he’s doing.

That final line was the main takeaway from Monday’s press conference. Where the Bulls might not have been expected to win during the 2018-19 season, they were expected to, under Hoiberg, take a step forward mentally. But the “energy and competitive spirit” lacked under Hoiberg in Year 2 of the rebuild, and he’s now replaced by a coach in Boylen who admitted is “a little more passionate in-game.”

So how does that get done? While Hoiberg never made excuses for his team’s poor performance in the wake of losing four key contributors for most of the season’s first month, Boylen is entirely taking it out of the team’s lexicon.

“I wasn’t raised that way to think that you can’t box a guy out whether you’re 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-8, you can’t be physical whether you’re 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-8. I wasn’t raised that way,” he said. “That’s not been my mentality. We have to do our technique better. We have to be more physical. We have to care about it more, and that’s what I hope I can help us do.”

Boylen was incredibly complimentary of Hoiberg, thanking him for the opportunity to coach in Chicago, calling him “a wonderful person” who was loved by all the players. But Hoiberg’s departure also opened up an opportunity for Boylen to reach the pinnacle of his profession. And from all indications he’s off to a good start. After practice he met with each member of the coaching staff and each player individually in Indiana to discuss their role. It’s the first step in building a culture not unlike the ones he was part of in Houston, Indiana and San Antonio.

And though he’s only been on the job less than a day, after a spirited two-hour practice the Bulls already feel closer to creating that culture that will breed success down the line.

“What I hope we can do is own ‘Bulls’ across our chest better. I don’t think we’ve owned it very well,” Boylen said. “And we have a lot to play for in this program and this place. So, to me that’s where it’s got to go. Who were playing for, what city were representing, and I’m going to preach those things every day.”

Gregg Popovich reflects Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

USA Today

Gregg Popovich reflects Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

In the wake of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna's tragic passing, touching tributes have abounded around the country and world. Last night and throughout pregame of a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Bulls' organization and fans decorated the United Center — inside and out — in Bryant's honor. 

Before the game, one which feels hollow in the scope of the events of the past 48 hours, Gregg Popovich offered reflections on his time knowing Bryant. Popovich's Spurs and Bryant's Lakers battled numerous times throughout the aughts and early 2010s, but he said his most poignant memories of Bryant go beyond the hardwood.

"He was somebody that I always respected just because he was so much more than a basketball player. He was highly intelligent, inquisitive, curious. We all know about his competitiveness, but he was a strategist. He focused. He was driven. And would have been successful no matter what he chose to do in life," Popovich said. "We all remember the on-court, but to me, the special parts will be the very few times I was able to spend time with him off the court and have discussions with him just one-on-one for a variety of different reasons.

"We all have special thoughts of him to varying degrees no matter whether you knew him a little bit or not at all, even the millions that admired him and cherished just knowing you could watch a game with him in it. You feel like he was your own. That's when happens when you're iconic and you're basically a superhero."

The impact of this loss is felt more deeply because of how many lives Bryant touched in his all-too-few 41 years.

"I think it's pretty obvious what Kobe's impact was on the league. Millions of people. On each team, the young kids on your team idolized him and looked up to him. And the older ones knew him and talked to him and had relationships with him. So, no matter which one of those groups you belong to, it was a tragic shock, obviously, because it was so unexpected. You don't dream of things like that," Popovich said. 

Popovich also extended further condolences to all families affected by the tragedy.

"There are no words to adequately describe such a horrific event, I don't think," he said. "You just offer your heartfelt sympathies to the Bryant family and to all the other families, and all we can all do is just hope that at some point in life they find some peace and some understanding. That's all you can do."

The Spurs went on as scheduled for a game with the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, one which took place mere hours after news broke of Bryant's passing. It was one of eight games to take place that night, all wracked by grief that isn't likely to subside soon.

"I don't think anybody was," Popovich said when asked if he felt they were able to play their best game so soon after learning the news. "It didn't matter whether it was us or Toronto, I think everybody was in a little bit of a fog, which was expected.

"I think it'll still take some time, especially for the guys that knew him the best. To get back whole, just mentally and psychologically, emotionally more than anything. It's a tough thing."

Tonight, Jim Boylen said the Bulls and Spurs plan to honor Bryant with 8- and 24-second violations to start the game. The Bulls will also show a tribute video.

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Bulls VP John Paxson recalls 2004 free agent meeting with Kobe Bryant

Bulls VP John Paxson recalls 2004 free agent meeting with Kobe Bryant

With the United Center honoring Kobe Bryant on the outside, the Bulls and John Paxson continued to pay tribute to the late Lakers star on the inside.

“First of all, obviously this is a really tough time for our game given what happened (Sunday),” Paxson said, referencing the helicopter crash that claimed Bryant, his daughter and seven others. “I think it goes without saying that Kobe Bryant was one of the great players in the history of our game. So much of our thoughts last 24-plus hours have been about his family, the other families, what they all must be going through.

“Events like this show how connected people in sport can be, with not only the fan base but those of us in the game. You didn’t have to have the greatest type of connection, but just the game itself means so much to people and the respect that the great ones have, you don’t see it very often. So you appreciate it. So it’s a really sad day and a really sad time for the league. And I know just seeing some of our young kids in (the locker room) and some of the guys who have been so influenced by him over the years, you can tell they’re shaken up. You’ve seen that all around the league the last 24 hours and it’s been really powerful.”

The Bulls planned a video tribute to Bryant and 24 seconds of silence. Signage of him is most everywhere outside and inside the building, including on the scoreboard. Coach Jim Boylen and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich agreed on 8- and 24-second violations to open the game, honoring the two numbers he wore.

In 2004, Paxson and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf flew to Newport Beach, Calif., to meet with Bryant and his then-agent Rob Pelinka to pitch him in free agency. Pelinka, now the Lakers president of basketball operations, is a Lake Forest native.

“We were fortunate that we were given that opportunity. I could tell he had an enormous amount of respect for Jerry and Jerry’s relationship with Michael (Jordan) and the brand that the Bulls are,” Paxson said. “The things that always stand out to me after that were first of all how smart of a person he was---we knew how smart of a player he was---and how mature he was even at that time.

“And the other thing was, in talking about coming to Chicago, it was six years after Michael left. Most guys didn’t want to follow that or have to try to live up to it. What he expressed to us was he wanted to embrace that if it happened. He wanted that challenge.

“I’ve said this many, many times about Michael. I had an opportunity to be around him for such a long time and seeing that rare competitiveness. The closest I’ve seen---and I obviously wasn’t involved in it---but you could just tell that Kobe Bryant had that same thing. It’s some gene in you that is rare. And it’s why there are a lot of really good players---you could even say great players---but there are few you could put in the greatest category. Obviously, he’s one of those.”

Paxson has two sons and spoke to the family aspect of the tragedy.

“It's just awful,” he said. “You know, anybody who has children, no matter what age, you think about that and it's just hard. Anything like this, it's just so unexpected. Before (Sunday), it's unimaginable. Families are involved, friends.

“Over the years in our business, Rob Pelinka is a guy that I've gotten to know very well. And I know that in our time, even when we went back to meeting over the years, his reverence for the person Kobe was genuine. And so it's hard to wrap your mind around stuff like this.”

At Bryant’s last United Center appearance in February 2016, he was spotted in a pregame hallway.

“He was coming from working out or lifting before the game and I caught his eye and said hello to him. And he came over and gave me a hug,” Paxson said. “He remembered our meeting. Just little things like that, I obviously didn't have much of a connection. But through people (like) Phil Jackson I did. We have a guy on our staff (director of sports performance) Chip Schaefer who spent 12 years with Kobe. I've talked to him and it's just hard for people.”

Paxson sent Jackson a text message on Sunday.

“He was one of the first people on my mind because of his relationship with Kobe,” he said. “I would never speak to the people who were there every day saw. But you can just tell that the guy worked at his game relentlessly, had that mindset. I did hear a quote about him (Monday), him speaking that said he always wanted to outwork his potential. And I think the great lesson for young players today is you can talk about work, but you have to do it. The price of success doesn't come easy. But this is more than that. This is one of the greatest players of our time. And that's hard.” 

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