Over his first three seasons with the Nets, Dennis Hopson was on the rise. Then he got the worst news a shooting guard could get in the 90s – he got traded to the Bulls. Hopson wasn’t OK with that, and it was all due to the lack of opportunities that came with playing backup to Michael Jordan.
So after three years of constant improvement, Hopson stagnated. He didn’t get nearly enough of playing time, which is the worst thing that can happen to a 25-year-old trying to make a name for himself in the NBA. And sure, being around guys like MJ and Pippen had its pros. But they were all overshadowed by the biggest of the cons – not playing.
Today, Hopson is the head coach of The Lourdes Gray Wolves – the NAIA II university. Being a basketball coach made him more appreciative of one thing about his run with the Bulls, and that is playing for Phil Jackson. In the world of NBA coaches, there’s no better sensei than The Zen Master.
Phil was different from anybody I had been around. He’s a guy that makes you think. He might have you stand in a circle before practice and just close your eyes. Just close your eyes and think about this and think about that.Dennis Hopson, 1-ON-1 with Dennis Hopson
Phil had ways of challenging his guys mentally. He would give the young guys exams about Chicago’s offensive and defensive principles, which would condition their playing time. He would also give his players books to read, and would later discuss those books with them. Hopson didn’t get a book treatment, but he did get a fair share of Jackson’s unorthodox coaching style.
Being 25, he couldn’t understand it. Today, he does. That’s why Hopson, the head coach, took bits and pieces from Phil that he implemented into his coaching philosophy. Challenging his guys mentally is one of them. Maximizing each guy’s potential, and having a different approach with each and every one of them is another one.
He knew each and every one of his players, and he knew what it took to get the most out of the guys that he was around.Dennis Hopson,1-ON-1 with Dennis Hopson
Phil letting Rodman go to Vegas for ’48 hours’ midway through the 97/98 season immediately comes to mind. He had to give Dennis some rope in order to keep him focused. It was unorthodox, but it worked. It’s an extreme example, but you do get the logic behind it. It was about a personalized approach towards each individual and the Zen Master grasped it long before anyone.