They were there in part because of an increasing feeling among league executives that ex-players not far removed from active duty often have a much easier time reaching today's players. "There have always been former players as assistants," Reid says, "but I think the guys who have recently hung it up are getting more consideration now because motivating these young guys and relating to them is getting to be so important—and more and more of a challenge. Sometimes those of us just out of the league know just what buttons to push."
Can Bulls Bear It?
It's possible that the Bulls will shake off the effects of Jordan's retirement like a case of the sniffles and shock everyone by marching to their fourth consecutive NBA title. History, however, suggests that they're more likely to take, a tumble.
A look at five of the greatest NBA stars of the past 25 years reveals that their teams suffered significant slides the year after they retired (chart, below). Last season's Celtics made the best adjustment, winning only three fewer regular-season games after Larry Bird's retirement than they did in 1991-92. But the Celtics also advanced to the Eastern Conference semis during Bird's final season. Last season they were first-round-playoff losers.
Another Celtic team suffered the worst drop, from NBA champions in center Bill Russell's last season to a nonplayoff team the following year. But the situation that most closely resembles Chicago's was that of the 1991-92 Lakers, the first post-Magic team. Like Jordan, Johnson retired without warning shortly before the start of the season, leaving his team little time to compensate for his absence. The result? A 15-game decline in L.A.'s regular-season record and a first-round loss in the playoffs. In Magic's final season the Lakers had reached the Finals. "We'll do our best," says Bull coach Phil Jackson. "But I know we're bucking a trend."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]