There is no secret well from which Michael Jordan draws motivation. It is, however, a bit mysterious at times, and certainly it is vast.
Occasionally, he will make mention of slights or perceived slights in the press. Opposing coaches’ and players’ comments are always a favorite. And the fuel of personal competition, whether it comes from Steve Smith or Voshon Lenard, is ever present.
And then there is the inspiration he only talks about when asked. The warm glow behind the fire in the eyes. The glint behind the grimace. For every Bobby Hansen, there is a Trent Tucker and Darrell Walker. For every Ron Harper, a Randy Brown. Jordan has always taken joy in seeing those who have never worn a championship ring feel the same satisfaction in victory that he has. It is that much more rewarding for him to see those who have bounced around the league, who may be on their last go-around, who have, as the cliche goes, paid their dues, experience that feeling.
This year, there is Frank Hamblen.
Not a name that inspires autograph hounds to stake out the Berto Center, Hamblen nonetheless fits all the criteria and then some. A career assistant coach whose 26 years of experience ranks him second among all NBA assistants, Hamblen is the new guy this year. He’s the only one, besides late acquisition Brian Williams, without a ring. Jordan’s project.
“I’ve been talking about it all season long, especially with Ham,” Jordan said. “I’ve kind of adopted his motivation as my incentive to see that he enjoys an opportunity to be a champion. He’s been around the league for so long, on a lot of teams and made some great contributions from the educational side of basketball, and then not to be on a championship team … That will be my gift to Hamblen. That’s part of my motivation.”
Hamblen, for his part, said he was touched.
“Michael came to me early in the season and told me it was a big motivation for him to win so that I can get a ring,” Hamblen said. “When the best basketball player in the world tells you that, well, it certainly made me feel special.”
Hamblen, an assistant coach under current Bulls assistant Tex Winter in Houston 25 years ago, joined the Bulls’ staff in September after being in Milwaukee nine years. He was an interim coach for the Bucks after Del Harris was fired and he had other opportunities to pursue a head coaching job. Considered one of the better teachers in the game, he surely possesses the qualifications to be a head coach.
“I probably had my chances when I was still relatively young,” the 50-year-old said. “At one time, I had a real burning desire.”
No longer, he insists. Just to be a part of a group effort, to still be able to teach, is what he enjoys most. Hamblen, primarily responsible for scouting opponents, says this is by far his favorite time of the year. All the better with a shot at his first ring.
Hamblen and Williams said there is a certain calming effect that comes from being around a winning team.
“This whole organization exudes confidence,” Williams said. “They didn’t even talk about winning the conference title. They didn’t put on the T-shirts and caps.”
And how special is it?
“I can explain it this way,” Williams said. “I was offered $1 million to play for Utah and I took $27,000 to play here. If that doesn’t tell you right there who I want to play for, what else can I say?”
It is that kind of talk that gives Jordan still another source of motivation. “It keeps me pushing to provide for others,” he said.
Hamblen and Williams will be ready recipients if the time comes. Williams sounds as though he’s rooting for Hamblen as well.
“I keep telling him,” said Williams, ‘It’s just me and you now, Frank. Just me and you.”’
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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