When people think of the Bulls dynasty in the ’90s, the first names that come to mind are usually Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson. One name that most people probably wouldn’t think of — if they’ve even heard of him — is Johnny Bach.
He should be more well-known than he is because he was an unsung hero for the Bulls in the first part of their dynasty in the ’90s — and he did it without ever playing a second for the team. So who was Bach and why does he deserve more credit than he gets? Let’s take a look at his career in the NBA.
Who is Johnny Bach?
Bach played college basketball at Fordham and Brown before going on to be drafted by the Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America in 1948. In 1950, he became Fordham’s head basketball coach at just 26 years old.
That would begin a long career as both an assistant coach and head coach in the college and professional ranks. He entered the NBA’s coaching ranks when he became an assistant with the Warriors in 1979, and he became their head coach four years later.
Bach joined the Bulls as an assistant coach in 1986, staying with the team in that capacity through 1994 before going on to work as an assistant with the Hornets, Pistons, and Wizards through the rest of the ’90s and the early 2000s. Bach finished his coaching career back in Chicago, returning as an assistant coach with the Bulls from 2003-06.
An unsung hero with the Bulls
Bach is credited as being the architect of the “Doberman defense,” the aggressive defensive scheme utilized by Jordan, Pippen, and Horace Grant that was a cornerstone of the team’s success in the first half of the ’90s.
The defense was an important part of the Bulls dynasty, even though it was largely overshadowed by Jordan’s impressive dunking ability and Jackson’s strong coaching. A war veteran, Bach would splice footage of movies like Full Metal Jacket into the Bulls’ advance scouting tapes, to help give the players the commitment, focus, and resolution that they needed to win their battles on the hardwood.
Jackson credited Bach’s use of war imagery and military references to help players like Pippen and Grant, who were from small towns, become less overwhelmed by being in a big city like Chicago. Bach also used his military background to teach young players the lessons he learned in the service that were most important — that they needed to be responsible because their teammates were depending on them.
Michael Jordan praises Johnny Bach
While Bach might not get the credit he deserves from the media and basketball fans, he gets it from Jordan. When the longtime coach died from complications of a stroke in early 2016, at the age of 91, Jordan released a statement giving his thoughts about the man who helped to guide the Bulls to three NBA titles.
He said that “Coach Bach was truly one of the greatest basketball minds of all-time,” going on to say that Bach taught him “so much” while encouraging him and working with him to help Jordan “mold [his] professional game.”
Jordan continued by saying that he doesn’t know if the Bulls would have won those first three of their six championships without Bach, and that the assistant coach “was more than a coach” to the legendary player, as “he was a great friend.”
A great friend who was a critical but unheralded piece of the puzzle in the first half of the Bulls dynasty in the ’90s. Without Bach, people may look at those Bulls teams differently than they do today.