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Tom Thibodeau and Barack Obama: Hail to a friendship

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2019, file

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2019, file photo, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau smiles in the waning moments as his team defeats the Orlando Magic in an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis. Thibodeau is back in New York as the Knicks’ new coach. The former NBA Coach of the Year was hired Thursday, July 30,2020, returning to the team he helped lead to the NBA Finals as an assistant coach. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File) Credit: AP/Jim Mone

When Tom Thibodeau was coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves he never brought the long-struggling franchise to a championship, but he did get the team a White House tour thanks to his friendship with the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at that time, President Barack Obama.

Obama had been a supporter dating to their shared history in Chicago with the 44th president even weighing in on Twitter in 2015 after the Bulls parted ways with Thibodeau, tweeting, "love Thibs and think he did a great job. Sorry to see him go but expect he will be snatched up soon by another team."

He was right and after getting Minnesota to the playoffs and being run out again he has landed in New York as head coach of the Knicks. But the first association between Thibodeau and Obama came this week and it wasn’t the kindly endorsement. Obama, appearing on Showtime’s "Desus & Mero" show, was mocking the basketball skills of the hosts after they’d played with New Jersey senator Cory Booker and video rolled of air balls and other miscues.

"Here’s the good news," Obama said with a smile. "Looks like y’all could play for the Knicks."

Let’s just say Thibodeau has his work cut out for him to convince Obama that he’ll get this job done.

"Obviously he’s a great president, a big Bulls fan," Thibodeau said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "And so I’ve always enjoyed him. I thought he did a great job as president and we’re going to have to work on making him a Knicks fan. That’s all. All our players in the league have great respect for him. So we’re going to work on getting him to shift from being a Bulls fan to being a Knicks fan."

Obama isn’t the first celebrity to take a shot at the Knicks as some of the celebrity row regulars have had their seats taken away for their criticisms. Long-time season ticket holder Spike Lee was at the Academy Awards last year when Samuel L. Jackson joked from the stage, "First of all, Spike, so glad you’re sitting down. After 18 consecutive home losses, the Knicks won tonight. I repeat, the Knicks won tonight, defeated San Antonio, 130-118."

"We can’t worry about what other people think," Thibodeau said. "The important thing for us is to focus on what we can control, what we think. So as we mentioned at the beginning of camp, how hard we play, how smart we play, how together we play, that’s important. I think we have very knowledgable fans. We have great fan support. I was here when it was great. I grew up as a kid and the Knicks were great. I know what that’s like. I think when a team wins the fans enjoy it. So we have to give the fans something to be proud of. That’s what we’re striving toward."

Although Obama may not abandon the Bulls for the Knicks, Thibodeau was also a part of the Knicks coaching staff when they were a regular in the postseason, serving as an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy. When he opted to sign on for this task it was with a belief he can bring the franchise back to those days.

"There are no shortcuts to success," he said. "You have to be willing to pay the price, to put the work in. For us the important thing is to confront what the facts are. So we have a lot of ground to make up. We’ve got to work each day to close that gap. if we do that good things will come. There has to be the proper amount of patience, but sometimes too much patience isn’t a good thing. So we’ve got to move this thing along and everything has got to be about the team. Sacrifices have to be made. We have to figure out, develop our plan, and then we’ve got to work our plan."

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