Los Angeles Lakers News: Bernie Bickerstaff, The Chemistry Specialist, Will Play Major Role In 2012 Title Chase



Los Angeles Lakers fans are at a fever pitch of excitement and expectation over the prospect of winning another NBA championship. The Lakers pulled Chris Paul out of the trade pot only to have the NBA serve him to the competition. The Lakers brass responded by waiting.

When no one was looking General Manager Mitch Kupchak with a little help from Kobe Bryant, pulled a rabbit out of the hat by convincing the Phoenix Suns, two-time league MVP Steve Nash that where he needs to be is in L.A. The acquisition of Antawn Jamison, the player who finds points and offense rebounds out of the flow of the game, adds credibility to the Lakers bench. The summer's big catch, Dwight Howard did some fishing of his own after the Brooklyn Nets moved their boat away. The Lakers docked by Howard sightings and tossed their big championship Hollywood bait on the hook. Howard took the bait.

Lakers fans screamed the news; did you hear?  What? We got Dwight Howard and we didn’t have to trade Pau Gasol! Our starting five is Kobe at shooting guard, Dwight Howard at center, Pau Gasol at power forward, Metta World Peace at small forward and Steve Nash at the point; Does this spell Championship? Or more than one! Wow! What must head coach Mike Brown be thinking about with all this hype and expectation for his talented star studded team? How can he make it all work? Build chemistry, chemistry, execution and more chemistry among his team?

Lost in all theDwight Howard hoopla was Bernie Bickerstaff being added to Mike Brown’s coaching staff while most of the fans and media attention was on the Lakers’ off-season player acquisitions. Bickerstaff’s hire may be the most critical non-player acquisition the Lakers made during the off-season. When Mike Brown had an opening in his coaching staff he knew that this hire had to be the right one. Always the consummate professional Coach Bickerstaff, “The Fixer” “The Utility Man” moved into town without much fanfare after all he is just an assistant coach. Right… Wrong!

Mike Brown put aside the power of Bernie Bickerstaff’s resume to hire someone who has seen it all in the NBA for over thirty years. In business and life there is the important Law of Recognition. Mike Brown’s recognition of the problem he was hired as head coach to solve led him to hire Bernie Bickerstaff. How often is this Law of Recognition overlooked in the marketplace of business? The answer is often. Lakers’ head coach Mike Brown understands that winning championships is all that will be acceptable in Tinsel Town. Brown went for the most uniquely experienced player’s style coach and executive in the NBA; Bernie Bickerstaff. 

There are so many NBA coaches that have come and gone during Bernie Bickerstaff’s time capsule career. Bickerstaff found a way to stay relevant in coaching and team management. He coached Elvin “Big E” Hayes and the indomitable Wes Unseld during the Washington Bullets 1977-78 NBA championship title runs in the late seventies ending a decade of some of the greatest basketball in NBA history.

The NBA would continue to change during the decade of the 1980’s as more television dollars were generated and two college stars ignited the NBA game. Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird with their unique games and college players started leaving school earlier and earlier and then there was Michael “Air Jordan”. Jordan led a new generation of NBA stars through the 1980’s, while his Chicago Bulls’ teams dominated the NBA during most of 1990’s once he teamed with head coach Phil Jackson. Nike marketing expanded, basketball shoe wars, ESPN, Fox Sports, high school players jump to the NBA and international players enter the NBA. Bernie Bickerstaff stayed relevant as he viewed the NBA he once knew change again before his eyes.

During the 2000 decade the NBA developed into a worldwide brand with many international players represented in the NBA landscape. Salaries for star players increased; ranging from fifteen to thirty million dollars a year for superstars while the NBA gets younger and younger as many college stars are one and done. The NBA game has been in a whirlwind of change over the last thirty years but there has been a constant Bernie Bickerstaff. He has viewed the changes in the professional game called the NBA like no other. Myles Monroe a great leadership teacher stated: “Change must be navigated.” 

 Assistant coach, head coach, general manager /head coach, vice president, assistant coach, assistant head coach and the beat goes on. The Bobcats organization knew the unique and specific qualities that would be necessary for their young organization to be successful. They needed someone who could relate to the players and everyone in the organization. They needed a candidate that could see a vision through with patience, a wide range of experience, great communication skills, and a good team player with the professionalism that has helped the candidate deliver successful organizations on and off the basketball court. The Charlotte Bobcats in building their organization from scratch brought in the candidate Bernie Bickerstaff to lay the foundation.

In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers they need chemistry engineers who can navigate a pressured, starting from scratch team and help build it into a championship, working together unit; not an easy job. The Lakers are loaded with talent, size and more talent. Every championship team has this special ingredient. Usually, the more individual talent gathered on one team makes building chemistry very difficult for the coaching staff and the players.

Will the Lakers do all the little things, execute the details, communicate on defense as a team while making the many sacrifices that each player must make, on this talent laden team? Can the 2012-13 Lakers become a well oiled machine ready to face all the adversity, each challenge and style of teams they will face on this championship journey? These are some of the concerns a coach and his coaching staff in Mike Brown’s position strategize daily when planning for practices and games.

In addition, to the hiring of Bernie Bickerstaff, Mike Brown fortified his coaching staff by hiring another former NBA coach Eddie Jordan who brings great perspective to the Lakers coaching staff and is a former NBA player. Assistant Steve Clifford is a former Orlando Magic assistant coach with the all important connection to help bridge Dwight Howard’s transition to the Lakers. Chuck Person and Darvin Ham bring an aggressive but upfront style to the Lakers coaching staff. Mike Brown has crafted a special blend of assistant coaches so there should be charted waters when it comes to coaching experience, motivating desire and providing information for the all important chemistry factors that will be the key to the Lakers’ success now and in the near future.  

I played on a Washington Bullets team coached by Gene Shue and his trusted assistant Bernie Bickerstaff. My recollection of Coach Bickerstaff is that he is a player’s coach but much more. Any player who wants to know exactly where he really is regarding effort, concentration levels, execution offensively and defensively, etc... Coach Bickerstaff is your guy. Synthesize all the experience and wisdom Coach Bickerstaff has added to his repertoire over the years and it strengthens the Lakers’ command center. The launching of chemistry building is in place with the addition of the eagle’s eye view of Coach Bernie Bickerstaff.