For nearly a full minute, the two NBA greats took turns singing the praises of former bad boy Bill Laimbeer, with both declaring that he deserved heavy consideration for the next NBA head coaching opening.
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"Bill Laimbeer has paid his dues," Johnson said Monday. "He’s won a bunch of WNBA championships. He’s proved he can coach."
Added Bird: "He’s one helluva coach."
It’s been 20 years since Bird and Johnson ruled the NBA, but the two are still not afraid to call it as they see it. That’s the primary thing that makes their new book "When the Game Was Ours" so interesting. Magic and Bird played at a time when players were beholden to no one except their teammates and fans. Great players then weren’t afraid to be controversial, weren’t afraid to say something that might potentially alienate a sponsor because they had yet to become marketing superstars who made more from their work off-the-court than on it.
The book, which has been available for a week or so but has a scheduled release date of Wednesday, has received a lot of attention for comments Johnson made concerning the unraveling of his relationship with Isiah Thomas. According to the index, Thomas is mentioned 26 times in the book, and many of the mentions weren’t complimentary.
For Knicks fans, one of the most curious things to come out of the book is the question of whether Johnson actually recommended Thomas to then-Knicks executive Steve Mills when the team was looking for a new president in 2003. Johnson, who is friends with Mills, took credit for doing so in the book, even though he wasn’t getting along with Thomas at the time. Since the book was published, Thomas has come out and said that it never went down that way.
Johnson reiterated Monday that he did recommend Thomas to Mills, adding that he wasn’t sure what went wrong for Thomas with the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday.
"I do know that he wasn’t happy. And the fans weren’t happy," Johnson said. "You want to win. Isiah is a proud man. I think that didn’t sit well for him. That’s why this college coaching job is so important for him. He really wants to prove to people that he can be successful. I know how much he loved the game, but at the same time he just didn’t get it done in New York."
Could it be that Johnson recommended the wrong former Bad Boy?