The Bucks made an interesting hire for their top assistant coach. According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, they scooped up Jim Cleamons, a long-time assistant for Phil Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles. In Chicago, the players he coached included current Bucks assistant coach Scott Williams.
Cleamons also has a lot of championship rings.
In fact, he has enough rings to put one on each finger — including the thumbs. Of the ten titles, six came with the Lakers (1969, 2000-02, 2009-10) and four with the Bulls (1991-93, 1996). He has seen a lot of good basketball along the way. The 1969 Lakers won 33 games in a row and 69 overall in his rookie season as a player. As an assistant coach, he witnessed his 1996 Bulls team breaking that Lakers’ record with 72 wins.
It’s easy to dismiss the championships by saying that those teams had West, Chamberlain, Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, and Kobe. You might further dismiss it by saying that in his head coaching gigs Cleamons went 12-44 in the NCAA, 28-70 in the NBA, and 18-14 in the Chinese Basketball Association.
The NCAA job came with Cleveland State before he joined the Phil Jackson and the Bulls. The disastrous NBA stint came with the Jason Kidd-Jim Jackson-Jamal Mashburn version of the Dallas Mavericks. That oft-feuding triangle of talent was no match for Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. And while coaching the Zhejiang Lions in 2011-12, Cleamons snuck into the CBA playoffs in his sole season while counting Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith among his players.
In light of Jim Boylan‘s recent struggles as a head coach in Milwaukee, it may be fair to say that some coaches were best suited to be assistants, and Cleamons may follow right along in that path.
But here’s the interesting part: he coached Scottie Pippen.
Cleamons didn’t arrive in Chicago until Pippen’s third season, so a lot of his development came at the hands of Doug Collins and Michael Jordan. But Cleamons was there, along with Johnny Bach and Tex Winters (above), when Pippen made the leap from promising prospect to bonafide star in that third season and then when he became an NBA champ a season later.
I hate when people make comparisons and say that Player X is going to be the next Bird, the next Magic, the next Jordan or Kobe. The analogies are usually ridiculous, and they place an unfair burden on the player who eventually has to try to live up to them. In the case of Pippen, it can be particularly dangerous because it can be applied to non-scorers. The analysis includes comments like, “He’s athletic, lanky, and not much of a scorer. That’s okay, because Pippen wasn’t a big scorer either!” For every player who mildly approximates what Pippen did, there are a dozen other Jamario Moons and Michael Kidd-Gilchrists who don’t.
With all those caveats in place, Giannis Antetokounmpo does share a lot in common with Pippen, even beyond the physical traits of length, athleticism, and the enormity of his hands. Like Pippen, he’s a point forward. Antetokounmpo didn’t run the point for Greece in the recent Under-20 Euro tournament, but the Greeks did make a point of getting him the first touch after a defensive rebound in case he saw an opportunity to get the team out in transition. He can handle the ball for sure. Giannis is raw, much like Pippen was when he came out of Central Arkansas.
But Pippen was an otherworldly star. Perhaps we should instead note that in Los Angeles Cleamons helped develop Trevor Ariza from a raw talent into a key cog on a Lakers title team. That’s probably fairer, right?
A few other notable facts:
1) Cleamons was once a finalist for the University of Wisconsin’s head basketball job that eventually went to Stu Jackson.
2) Cleamons kindly noted John Henson‘s performance in a piece he wrote about Summer League. “Milwaukee’s John Henson and Charlotte players Jeffrey Taylor and Cody Zeller each earned first team honors and impressed their respective teams.”
3) Even though he coached Pippen well, he also had perhaps the best response to Pippen’s treasonous refusal to enter for the final 1.8 seconds of a playoff game when Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc to take the final shot. According to Playing for Keeps,
At first, a puzzled Jackson turned to his assistants and said, “He doesn’t want to go back in. What am I going to do?”
“F*** him,” said Jimmy Cleamons, one of the assistants. “We play without him.”