If there is something worse than never being successful, it is having it soon. Or rather, that those good results come at the beginning of a career but then cannot be achieved in the same way. Something like this happened to Mike Budenholzer, whose landing in the NBA as head coach could not have been better under the circumstances. In his first season at the helm of Atlanta Hawks led him to be in a position to eliminate the very strong Indiana Pacers, falling in 7 games, and the following year he signed the best Regular Phase in the 65-year history of the franchise, with a balance of 60-22.
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That race in the 2015 Playoffs for which the Georgia team reached the Eastern Finals for the first time since 1970 marked a before and after for the technician, since the sweep that the Cleveland Cavaliers stamped on him would serve as an excuse to settle a narrative that it would be very difficult for him to retaliate.
Narratives in the NBA have their positive side, since they allow to quickly relate someone with a specific story and some characters, but also their refusal, since this can become rather a container of prejudices and preconceived ideas that have little or nothing to do with reality. The cargo that has accompanied Budenholzer since those 2015 Eastern Finals he is none other than that of a magnificent coach and synonymous with victories… In regular season.
“I love you so much, I’m so proud of you.”
– NBA (@NBA) July 21, 2021
Born in the state of Arizona in 1969, Mike’s relationship with basketball ran in the family, as his father Vince it was quite an institution in his native Holbrook. In command of the local institute for 25 years, he would lead the team to the state championship in 1971, becoming a legend of the city and being included in the Hall of Fame of the Arizona Coaches Association. From his father, Mike had his first and main reference at a technical level, understanding basketball from an unusual point of view and discovering the ins and outs of the game. Without discipline there can be no basketball and his father always He instilled a series of values related to sport that would shape his personality years later as a coach.
Mike would not follow in his father’s footsteps on the banks instantly, before he wanted to prove his worth as a player, something for which at the time he made the leap to college he was not entirely prepared.
After asking to enroll in Pomona College as a student, Budenholzer wanted to try his luck on the basketball team, managing to enter and fit in perfectly with the group. With his 1.85 meters tall, ‘Bud ‘developed a reputation as a fierce competitor, a great defender and someone very smart., whose limited abilities and physique did not prevent him from completing a 4-year cycle with the team, between 1989 and 1993. After completing his university journey, Mike tried to make a living as a professional player in Denmark, where in addition to being part of the first team he had the opportunity to have his first experiences as a coach away from the shadow of his father.
Returning to the United States without pain or glory at the age of 24 and his dream of becoming a professional frustrated, in the summer of 1996 an old acquaintance from his university offered him a job. Someone whom he knew very well and who had been responsible for his arrival at Pomona. In 1989 ‘Bud’ was wondering which path to take and which team to choose in college. Tempted by the proximity of Arizona, he followed the family tradition, as his brothers Jim and Joe had passed through the classrooms of the Californian university, but the one who really made their landing possible was the most important figure in the history of Pomona: Gregg Popovich.
Just after completing another great season at the helm of the project, Larry Brown offered Pop a position at the San Antonio Spurs, fulfilling his dream of reaching the NBA, but before his departure he left everything tied and well tied, closing the roster and recommending the recruitment of a certain Michael Budenholzer.
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The two hit it off and soon forged a relationship that would unite them more and more. In fact, being ‘Bud’ still a player, Popovich commissioned him to act as an external video analyst in his short time in Golden State Warriors, unpaid work and with very specific conditions. He couldn’t talk to anyone, no one could know what he did.
Just turned 26, Popovich offered him a position as a video coordinator at the San Antonio Spurs, leading a very precarious department in the era of VHS and manual editing. From a tiny and dark room, Budenholzer began to carve out a future in the NBA that years later would make him multiple times champion.
An apprentice in the shadow of the master
The moment the Spurs NBA champions were crowned in June 2014, there were many voices that were raised to recognize much of the merit in the construction of Mike Budenholzer’s offensive system. By then, the Arizona coach had already concluded his first season as head coach at Atlanta Hawks, signing a memorable season and being eliminated in the First Round by the Indiana Pacers (4-3).
Reasons were not lacking to remember who was Popovich’s right hand for 17 consecutive seasons. Always to the right of spine, there were few who truly believed that it would be ‘Bud’ who would take over from the veteran coach once he decided to retire, as a natural change within the Spurs, prolonging the dynasty in time and extending Pop’s legacy even more. Something that obviously would not happen, since the 5-time champion is still in charge of the team and with no signs that this is going to change.
But the relevance of Budenholzer in the last Spurs champions did not only reside in his long experience in the organization. He is responsible for the construction of a game system that is part of the NBA’s Olympus, the highest point in the distribution of the ball, the extra pass taken to its maximum expression. Those Spurs who ran over the unrecognizable Miami Heat in the 2014 Finals They had the ‘Bud’ stamp on them.
Inspired by the brilliant teams led by Don nelson In the 80s and 90s, Budenholzer imagined a basketball without positions where only the space was interpreted according to the defense, applying a series of concrete rules and letting the game flow.
In San Antonio, Budenholzer would spend almost two decades where he was gaining weight year after year, going from being the guy in the video to part of the technical staff to being the most respected figure on the bench only behind Popovich.
His own way
But 2013 was the time to go in search of a change, a new path that led him to Atlanta, where he was finally able to put his personal style into practice and leave his mark even if the results did not accompany him. It would be in Milwaukee where ‘Bud’ would finally obtain his graduation as a valued and respected coach, leader of an eminently defensive team and who has managed to propose an open and mobile basketball with pieces very different from those he had in Spurs and Hawks, for not say completely opposite.
“I value his honesty. He is a guy who will tell you what he sees. I also value trust. We see things sometimes differently on the court, we tell him, ask him if we could do it or suggest we do it in a different way and he trusts that we will go out and execute it “. This is how I recently described Khris Middleton to his coach, making it clear that beyond being someone highly structured and with very clear ideas, he respects and listens to his pupils, something that is not usually as common as you think in the NBA.
In Wisconsin, Budenholzer has had to bear a lot of pressure on his shoulders. The fact of having one of the best players today, winner of two MVPs in a row, has made that when the results have not been positive, all eyes turn to him. The coach has managed to deal with all this thanks to his competitive spirit and belief and trust in the group he holds, learning how to manage each situation until reaching the top.
2021 has been a year of consecration for the Arizona native, a complicated course that the Bucks have been able to take advantage of to achieve their best result in more than 4 decades.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the NBA or its organizations.