MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- If you really thought there was a chance that Tom Thibodeau was going to miss coaching a basketball game on the day he attended funeral services for his father, then you don't know Tom Thibodeau very well. This is a man who lives and breathes for his job. This is a man who loves the opportunity to teach his players and thrives off the competition that coaching NBA basketball provides. Most of all, this is a man who has built his working life around working harder than anyone else. He has a passion for his job the likes of which is not see often in professional sports, a passion that the rest of his family, including his late father, Thomas Sr., must understand very well. That's why Thibodeau started his morning in Connecticut with his family and then flew to Tennessee to be with his extended family.
"I think it's something my father would have wanted," Thibodeau said Monday before the Chicago Bulls' 95-91 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, admitting that he didn't have many second thoughts about his decision. "And our family, once I saw that they were good, I felt good about [the decision]."
Thibodeau's choice to be with his team didn't really surprise the players he coaches on a daily basis. They see how much he has invested into this group and they know that in some small way the idea of getting back to work was probably good for him.
"Everybody's different, you know?" Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I can't believe it, but he wants to be here with his team and it's crazy."
Noah, an emotional man in his own right, didn't mean that his coach was actually crazy. What he was trying to convey was that Thibodeau has always marched to the sound of his own beat. The veteran coach is notorious for spending hours upon hours watching tape and devising game plans for his team. His maniacal drive has been what's set the tone for the Bulls' success over the past four seasons, and while his players might not always agree with him, they do respect the amount of time he puts into his craft.
"He lives for this," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "I think that's what we appreciate the most -- is just the effort and the time that he puts into it."
In his own way, Thibodeau must have felt he was honoring his father simply by going back to work on Monday night. He knew how much joy his father got out of seeing him coach basketball games. In his obituary in The Hartford Courant, Thibodeau Sr. was described as an "avid" Bulls fan; it also noted that one of his proudest moments came when he got to ride in a duck boat during the 2008 championship parade for the Boston Celtics, where his son was an assistant coach under Doc Rivers.
Thibodeau's decision to be with his team might surprise some, but the people who know him best and have been around him most can't be surprised by his choice. As usual, he paced up and down the sideline and barked at the officials throughout the night. He needed to find some normalcy on a day in which probably nothing felt normal at all.
"Thibs lives for this team," Noah said. "He lives basketball. He's going through some hard times right now and ..."
Noah wasn't sure exactly how he wanted to finish his thought, but he didn't have to. On this night, he and his teammates let their play do the talking -- grinding out a win for which Thibodeau and his family surely found some extra comfort.