The Chicago Bulls did not have much off season change from a player standpoint. The biggest acquisition was Patrick Williams, the fourth pick in the 2020 draft. When it comes to organizational movement however, a seismic shift took place.
The new vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, proceeded to hire Marc Eversley as general manager and Billy Donovan as head coach. All three are well known and respected around the league as professionals with a reputation of success and development. Certainly, for Chicago Bulls fans, Donovan is a new light of hope after “whatever that was” (I mean Jim Boylen) previously.
Donovan takes over a team in need of an identity. They will be learning a new defense and a different offense. He also has inherited a young team, with a couple players in need of emotional repair after a season of Boylen’s talks about “soul and spirit”.
Unlike his predecessor, Donovan will not be ranting and raving up the sidelines. He brings with him a calm, cool and confident demeanor. He also brings with him a second qualified head coach as an assistant, Maurice (Mo) Cheeks, a Chicago native.
Cheeks, himself with nine years head coaching experience had been an assistant on Donovan’s bench at OKC for the last five seasons. Now he returns home where his technical, as well as his soft skills, will be a vital element for building a new culture.
As a player, Mo Cheeks was selected 36th in the 1978 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Cheeks once said “Can you imagine as a rookie, walking into the gym and the first person you see is Dr. J? I remember almost turning around and walking out.”
Cheeks not only stayed but he went on to play 15 years as an NBA point guard, including four all-star appearances, four NBA All-Defensive First Team selections and a Hall of Fame Selection. He is best known though for his role on the 1983 Sixer championship team. He was the glue that kept stars Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, and Charles Barkley in sync. A humble player, he retired the NBA all-time leader in steals and fifth in assists.
It did not take long for Cheeks to start climbing the coaching ladder. Since 1994, he has been a head coach or assistant coach, mostly within the Philadelphia, Portland and OKC organizations.
He has coached great players the likes of Scottie Pippen, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.
One of the most famous moments of his head coaching career is well documented. It was a rare moment when Cheeks stepped into the spotlight. But he did not do it for himself. As usual he was there to help another succeed.
On April 25, 2003, before the game between the Portland trailblazers and Denver Nuggets, 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert forgot the words while singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Cheeks came over and assisted her the rest of the way. The entire crown joined in and when over, gave a standing ovation for a combined moment of compassion and pride.
Here is the clip if you have never seen it.
That is Maurice Cheeks. His resume clearly speaks to his ability to recognize a challenge and meet it head on at the highest level, with complete humility.
For a team in need of organizational reconstruction from the top down, Donovan and Cheeks should provide the experience and professionalism that appeals to players around the league. They can provide a new vibe in a locker room in need of trust, guidance, and basketball knowledge.
The Bulls are one of the most storied franchises in all of American sports. They have a devoted fan base. A few wins, a couple exciting players and the tide can change quickly. Maurice Cheeks, without a doubt will be a key piece in the growth of these young Bulls.
Welcome Home Mo!