During the NBA season, a coach’s work is never done. While there’s plenty of time spent on X’s and O’s, there are plenty of less apparent responsibilities. One of those is building a team culture; last season, Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen learned just how hard that could be.
This season, however, the Bulls have bought into their new identity. Behind the scenes, Boylen used one weird method to get everyone on the same page.
Boylen’s coaching career
Despite working in basketball for several decades, Jim Boylan had never led his own team at the highest level.
Boylen’s coaching career started in 1987 when he accepted an assistant coaching position at Michigan State. After five years with the Spartans, he moved to the NBA, serving as the Houston Rockets assistant coach; Boylen would win two championships in Texas, before moving on to the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.
In 2007, Boylen finally got the chance to run his own team, taking over as Utah Utes head coach. He would guide the program into the NCAA tournament during his second year in charge but struggled to replace graduating players after that. The ax fell during his fourth season with the Utes.
Boylen then returned to the NBA, serving as an assistant coach on the San Antonio Spurs staff. He became the Chicago Bulls’ associate head coach in 2015; when Fred Hoiberg lost his job during 2018, Boylen took over.
Changing the Bulls culture
Soon after assuming control of the Bulls, Boylen attempted to stamp his authority on the team. He felt that the players were out of shape, so he scheduled a practice the day after his team finished a back-to-back set of games. When the players learned of his plan, they weren’t happy.
The team refused to practice, sitting down for a meeting with the coach instead. At that moment, Boylen learned a valuable lesson: he wasn’t Gregg Popovich, and he couldn’t treat his players like misbehaving children.
At the start of this season, Boylen still wanted to change the team’s culture. He did it more subtly, however. He installed a time clock in the practice facility; players now have to punch in and out, as they would in a blue-collar job.
The move has apparently worked. “There has been a palpable shift inside the Advocate Center, a whole new attitude and atmosphere,” Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic reported. “Players raved about it throughout training camp and the preseason. The vibe, they say, is just different.”
Rebuilding the Chicago Bulls
After posting two straight losing seasons, the Bulls will be looking to turn things around this year. Boylen’s culture change can help, but the team will need to stay healthy. Last year, Chicago lost 276 player games, with Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. all missing significant time.
If everyone can stay on the court and keep up the preseason’s enthusiasm, the Bulls will be in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. If things start to go south, however, his culture change will be put to the test. Showing up to work, punching the clock, and working hard is a lot easier before the season starts; things will be a lot tougher during Chicago’s first losing streak.