Last week, Gar Forman, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls, chose not to renew the contract of the team’s lead assistant coach, Ron Adams.
You probably did not notice that this happened; it was a nonevent lost in an NBA news landscape dominated by the 2013 draft and whatever shenanigans Dwight Howard was up to at the time.
I, though, did notice that Gar Forman removed Ron Adams from the Bulls’ payroll, mostly because I know both men quite well. Forman was an assistant coach when I played basketball at Iowa State University in the late nineties. Adams was an assistant coach when I “played basketball” for the Chicago Bulls in the mid-aughts.
I want to tell you what I know about these men – I want to tell you stories that I think illustrate the sorts of men they are. But I am vexed, because I am not entirely sure what my motivation for telling you these stories is.
So I will tell you the stories and, in the process, see if I can figure out why I am doing so.
It is Christmas break, in that weird anti-time that lies between years. In this case, between 1996 and 1997. I am a freshman at Iowa State, wholly out of my league in the Big XII, playing occasionally for a nationally-ranked college basketball team not because I am any great shakes as a basketball player, but because the senior ahead of me has been declared academically ineligible thanks to a chronic disinterest in attending class the previous spring.
The head coach at Iowa State is a man whose name you will recognize. But on this wintry, blustery Iowa afternoon, Tim Floyd is not at practice. He has left early, probably to attend to something having to do with his daughter or wife, people to whom he is passionately devoted in the same way that he is passionately devoted to most of the people in his life about whom he cares.
In his place at the helm of practice: Gar Forman.
At this point in my basketball career, I do not know Forman all that well. I came to Iowa State because of another assistant, a man named Steve Krafcisin, who once came very close to talking me into attending the University of North Dakota. What I do know about Forman is that I don’t trust him; he strikes me as the sort of man who tells people what they want to hear, uses what they tell him to advance his own career, and dodges responsibility for whatever chaos he might leave in his wake. In other words: the model college basketball assistant.
But right now, standing on the baseline inside Hilton Coliseum, all of this is only my sense for Gar Forman. I don’t have any concrete examples on which I can base my judgment. Until Coach Forman takes over practice.
“Oh, you don’t want to do it right? Well then, I guess we’ll just run it eleven more times. Or maybe it’ll be thirteen more times. Or maybe it’ll be forty. It’s up to you.”
This is what Gar Forman says to us, as we’re gasping for breath.
What’s difficult about telling you this story is that it doesn’t sound all that damning. College basketball coaches say all sorts of mean things to their players.
What was damning was the way he said the words. Sadistically. Cruelly. Like an overeager storm trooper left in charge of the gulag for the day
It is a several years later. Almost a decade, in fact. I am lying in a hospital bed inside Rush University Hospital in Chicago. I am in this hospital bed because, a few days earlier, my left side met up with a right knee owned and operated by Austin Croshere of the Indiana Pacers. The immediate result of this encounter was that I was bounced out of a game in which I had played a career-high 26 minutes. The not-so-immediate result was that Croshere’s knee ruptured my spleen and fractured my left kidney.
I wasn’t actually that close to dying on the plane ride home from Indianapolis, but it probably sounded that way. I screamed for most of the plane’s ascent and all of its descent. I remember most vividly two things: that the man I told to summon head trainer Fred Tedeschi was Scottie Pippen (Scottie Pippen!) and that the question I kept asking Fred was, “When am I going to pass out?”
On this day, I am no longer screaming, and I am once again aware of my surroundings – a state of being that is only possible thanks to a painkiller called Dilaudid. I recognize at the foot of my bed the wizened face of Ron Adams, whom I’ve known for all of eighteen days, but who has, because he knows I am a Reader, come to my hospital room with an armful of books.
In several more days, Ron and his wife Leah will invite me and my mother, who flew to Chicago the morning after I was nearly-mortally wounded, to their house for dinner. Leah will accompany my mother to Bulls games that I cannot attend, for I will be bedridden in a Residence Inn in Chicago. After my mother leaves, Ron will pick me up from the Residence Inn and take me to lunch. After my time with the Bulls is over, he and I will stay in contact. He will meet one of my future girlfriends. He will read my writings. He will become my friend.
On the face of it, this might be where the stories end. In presenting my experiences with both men as I have done, I’ve endorsed one man over another man and what will be, will be: you will either trust my judgment or you will not.
But this isn’t where the stories end. There is a third story here. One that helps explain why I am reluctant to tell you any of these tales, but also one that might give you more reason to trust their teller.
If you are not intimately versed in the origin story of the current Chicago Bulls administration, a question you might ask is this one: how did Gar Forman, once an assistant coach at Iowa State University, ever get to be the general manager of the Chicago Bulls?
I don’t know the specifics, but I have a feeling the answer can be boiled down to this: because of the man who left that practice in Ames, Tim Floyd.
After my sophomore season of college basketball, Tim Floyd walked down the aisle of the bus outside Kemper Arena in Kansas City, shaking his players’ hands. We had just concluded the only losing season of his Iowa State career with a defeat at the hands of the Missouri Tigers and, ostensibly, Floyd was lamenting the end of a long year. But in reality, he was saying good-bye. All spring, his name had been linked to the vacant head coaching position of the Chicago Bulls. In a few short months, he would take that job.
I don’t know that he knew after that Big XII tournament game, for sure, that he was going to replace Phil Jackson. But he had a pretty good idea that he wouldn’t be taking too many more trips down the aisles of buses containing college basketball players.
If my life had gone another way, that handshake could have been my last with Tim Floyd. But we shared many, many more.
After he left Iowa State, Coach Floyd and I became close, closer than I ever thought possible. We’ve talked, in the past 15 years, about life, love, politics and truth. He has become a father figure: one of the men I respect most in the world.
He also helped Gar Forman get a job with the Chicago Bulls.
This leaves me in an awkward spot.
The good news here is that this does not leave you in an awkward spot. I believe you can trust the verity of my stories because of the risk I run in telling them to you. That risk might seem a trifling one, because that risk is only that I would run afoul of one man I respect (Floyd) in the defense of another man I respect (Adams).
But that risk looms large for me. These men I respect, they also believe in loyalty. And I am veering close to disloyalty.
Nonetheless, I think it is a risk worth taking. In part because, while you will probably never meet Ron Adams, or Tim Floyd, or Gar Forman, you have your own Ron Adams, your own Tim Floyd, your own Gar Forman to deal with.
But mostly, I think this risk is worth taking because I am selfish. I have my own self-interest at stake.
And that, it occurs to me, is why I wanted to tell you these stories.
It is my goal to become a man like Ron Adams, like Tim Floyd. And one way I can do that is to tell you what I know about these men. As well as to tell you what I know about Gar Forman.
It is possible that Gar Forman has changed.
But it is possible that he has not.
It is possible that Gar Forman has become a basketball genius.
But it is possible that he has risen to his current post because he is good at rising.
It is possible that Gar Forman excels at management because he knows how to make the tough decisions, and that firing Ron Adams was one of those decisions.
But it is possible that firing Ron Adams was yet another example of the corporate culture that has taken over sports and wiped out something that used to matter in sports, even professional sports: character.
These are my impressions. My beliefs.
I believe that Ron Adams is a man a team should want to have around. I believe that, by telling you what I know, I can undo a small portion of the injustice that was done when Forman gained favor and Adams lost.
And I believe something else: that by telling you what I believe, I can get a little closer to becoming the man I want to be.