The alarm rings at 4:30 a.m., but only for a split-second. Tom Thibodeau has been wide awake for the last eight minutes, waiting for the buzzer to go off.
He unplugs himself from the matrix, where he has spent the last four hours downloading video of Rick Carlisle’s push offense, all 722 of Russell Westbrook’s pick-and-rolls last season and diagrams of Gregg Popovich’s plays after a timeout straight into his brain.
Or so goes the caricature of the NBA’s ultimate grinder, a reputation that has morphed from reality to apocryphal over Thibodeau’s three decades in the league. The snarling, growling, basketball savant so consumed by the game there seems to be little room for anything else in his life.
“I think that’s sort of the way it is today,” Thibodeau said with a hearty laugh. “You get put in some type of box. I’m like everybody else. There are a lot of other things that I enjoy doing also.”
Thibodeau insists he’s more than the basketball junkie that people cast him to be. In addition to visiting teams during his sabbatical last year, he also saw his family over the holidays for the first time in recent memory, took trips to Napa and St. Thomas and watched the occasional movie. He loves U2 and Bruce Springsteen and relishes a great meal with good company.
But now that the season is here, it’s time to work.
The Timberwolves brought him back to Minnesota — the place his NBA coaching career began 27 years ago — with the hope he can galvanize a promising young roster and end an interminable 12-year playoff drought.