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Michael Jordan has made a number of mistakes since taking control of the Bobcats.
Hiring Mike Dunlap was not one of them.
It seems that the vast majority of the NBA fan base reacted to the hire with the following series of thoughts:
“The Bobcats hired some guy named ‘Mike Dunlap,’ who I’ve never heard of…”
“Jordan strikes again. What a fool.”
“Wait, this guy hasn’t been a head coach in how long!?!”
Dunlap spent the last 6 years working as an assistant at different stops (Denver Nuggets, Oregon Ducks, Arizona Wildcats, St John’s University). Before that, he was a head coach at Metro University. I did not make that up. (But I could have!)
So…how the fuck did he just land a head coaching position in the NBA?
As George Karl put it Tuesday, this time “the Basketball gods kind of rewarded the right stuff.”
Let’s take a look at a few of Dunlap’s stops before landing in Charlotte.
Denver: Dunlap spent two years working as an assistant for a living legend in George Karl, learning the woes of dealing with superstars (and super headcases) with a Nuggets roster which included Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith. Experience dealing with NBA-caliber diva’s: Check.
I think every coach wants to see his protégés succeed, for many it is the ultimate legacy. But reading the quotes from Karl talking about Dunlap, it’s obvious that Karl is genuinely glad to see Dunlap getting a shot at the highest level, “To hire a guy of knowledge and character and service more than spin and perception is something that makes me feel great.”
To someone scanning his wikipedia page, the year Mike Dunlap spent at Arizona might seem unimportant. Dunlap came in as an assistant coach the year of Lute Olson’s retirement. Instead of spending a couple years learning from one of college basketball’s all-time greats, he found himself assisting Russ Pennell, a former commentator for the Sun Devil’s television basketball broadcasts, who had, before taking his position at Arizona, previously coached at the AAU level. Not exactly a bright spot on the resume, right?
Wrong. Dunlap did a stupidly good job with a dishearteningly bad situation. It was a known secret throughout the year to those connected to the team that though Pennell was generally well regarded by the players, Dunlap was in the actual coach. Despite the widespread expectation that the team would crash and burn (after seeing a once highly touted incoming freshman class that was supposed to include Brandon Jennings and Jeff Withey completely fall apart), the Cats put together a 21 win season capped off by a sweet sixteen run.
I asked Kyle Fogg (a four year player at Arizona who played for Olson, Kevin O’Neill, Dunlap & Sean Miller) if he’d want to play for Dunlap again on Twitter and his response said it all, “Not even a question, I’d love to”
Yes, we’re going out of order now…and I did already make fun of Metro State for being a podunk institution. But Dunlap won 2 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS there. Yes, they were division II, but from what I gathered, nets were still cut down.
Dunlap knows how to win. He knows how to grind; how to put his nose to the grindstone without recognition. Besides talent, the Bobcats lack leadership. They lack determination, effort, strong will. They aren’t going to compete for a championship anytime soon (let alone a playoff spot), but they will undoubtedly improve steadily under Dunlap’s direction.
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You know those mind-numbing water cooler discussions about weather, pets and weekend activities? That soul-crushing small talk would be far less demoralizing if it included something you actually cared about.
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