Sam Smith is going to receive the 2012 Curt Gowdy Media Awards from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week, honoring one of the great journalists ever to ply his craft following the NBA.
He covered the Chicago Bulls for years, for the Chicago Tribune and now for the Bull’s official site. He was the go-to source for Bulls information during the Jordan years, the one guy willing to be honest about the stars and team in a pre-Internet era.
But that’s not why you remember him, you remember him for The Jordan Rules.
That was the book that came out not long after the Bulls had won their first title and pulled back the curtain on Michael Jordan, a guy who up to then had not faced a ton of critical coverage (aside questions of if he could win the big one… seriously). The book exposed Jordan’s bullying ways with teammates in a less than flattering portrayal. It was controversial.
And Phil Jackson thinks it might have helped the Bulls win more titles.
While Jordan had taken some steps toward trusting his teammates he needed to take more if the Bulls were to become a dynasty and not a one-hit wonder. Jackson, speaking to Bulls.com about Sam Smith, said the book helped in that regard.
“I knew it was going to be controversial and Sam had kind of warned me,” said Jackson of The Jordan Rules. “It was an inside look at the team and about the dynamics and the characteristics of our leader, Michael Jordan. Not everybody was going to be happy with it, I knew that…
Between Jordan’s spectacular abilities and the emergence of Scottie Pippen, the Bulls were poised to make a long run. But without Jordan coming around to rely on his teammates, it is possible the Bulls would never have gotten to that point. Jackson believes Smith’s book played a role in Jordan backing off his so-called supporting cast, as well as allowing the coaches to more effectively restore a level of order and maintain control of the team.
“That was probably a part of the dynamic,” said Jackson. “There were a lot of things that contributed to that. I think one of them was Michael playing in a system in which he had to form-fit himself into a group. He had to start trusting his teammates, which came from the appreciation of their individual skills and abilities. Finally, some of the shine came off the idolatry and the unbelievable press Michael got his first four or five years of his career where he could do everything from sew to cook.”
Read the entire interview, it is fascinating. Smith started covering the team when NBA teams still flew commercial airlines (now teams have private chartered jets). That meant journalists were on the same team, got to talk to players in a casual setting, and got a better feel for team dynamics than now when media availability is limited (and team PR personnel are ever vigilant).
Jackson admits that a lot of what was in Jordan Rules rung true. And in the end, that might have been good for the Bulls.