Phil Jackson has received many accolades in his professional life. He was a two-time NBA champion as a player and eleven-time NBA champion as a head coach. But last night, at the 2014 Fordham Men’s Basketball Tip-Off Dinner at the Grand Hyatt, he received an award that only two others currently have. The Johnny Bach Award.
The Johnny Bach Award is presented annually at the Tip-Off Dinner to the individual who has had substantial and lasting impact on the sport of basketball and who best emulates Mr. Bach’s drive and passion for excellence. John W. Bach, FCRH ’48, a coaching icon on the collegiate, professional, and international levels, is one of the greatest basketball minds of all time. A defensive specialist, he has been credited with helping the Chicago Bulls win three straight NBA championships. He is still the all-time winningest coach in Fordham University basketball history, and led the Rams to five NIT appearances and a pair of NCAA berths in 18 seasons.
Bach began his basketball career in New York City in the early 1940’s playing on two New York City Catholic High School championship teams. As a freshman at Fordham, he was a regular on the school’s great 1942-43 squad, Fordham’s first NIT team. His career with the Rams, however, was interrupted by years at the University of Rochester, Brown University, and the U.S. Navy ROTC program. He was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy and served until late 1947, at which point he returned to Fordham, earned a B.S. in economics and garnered team MVP honors for the 1947-1948 season.
In 1950, he took the head coaching position at Fordham and, over the next 18 seasons, compiled a 263-193 record with five NIT appearances and NCAA appearances in 1953 and 1954. He served as assistant to the athletic director for four years and as athletic director for his final eight years before leaving for Penn State after the 1967-1968 season.
Jackson and Bach have a long history together, starting in 1967 when Jackson was drafted by the New York Knicks and Bach was in his final season as the Fordham head coach. Jackson kept track of Bach as Bach moved to Penn State and then on to the NBA in the early 1980’s first with the Golden State Warriors and later as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls. Their paths crossed again when Jackson took over as head coach of Chicago in 1986 as he retained the services of Bach as his defensive coach.
The Bulls reaped the rewards of that partnership in 1991, winning the NBA title, the first of three straight championships for Chicago. But despite all the success, Jackson remembered Bach for a different reason. “John Bach was a character who truly is one of a kind. He was so proud of his Navy accomplishments and he loved to draw. At the beginning of the season when we did reports together for upcoming teams Johnny always had interesting diagrams on every report, headed off with a gargoyle or something that would bring a touch to the spirit.”
Beside defensive strategy, Bach also left an impression on Jackson that had a Fordham connection.
“One thing John Bach taught me to do when I became head coach of the Bulls was something he picked up from Vince Lombardi and I used it every year with my basketball team. Lombardi coached the freshman basketball team at Fordham and at the beginning of the year he lined the team up on the baseline, stood in front of them and said ‘Fordham University and God have ordained me to coach you guys and I want every one of you who is willing to be coached and accept my coaching to step across that line and so be it’.”
“I use that because it’s an affirmation about being coached and being part of a team'” continued Jackson. “Johnny was a great team player and I take this award with a great amount of pride.”
Jackson joins P.J. Carlesimo (2013) and Patrick Ewing (2012) as recipients of the Johnny Bach Award.