AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Former Chicago Bulls assistant Johnny Bach died Monday at the age of 91. The basketball lifer coached for 56 years and was an integral part of Phil Jackson's coaching staff during the organization's first three-peat from 1991 to 1993.
"My heart's really heavy right now," former Bull Stacey King said before Monday's game between the Bulls and the Detroit Pistons. "It just kind of ruined my morning this morning when I found out about it. [He] was a big part of my life in basketball, outside of basketball, really enjoyed my time playing with him. One of the innovators defensively of those championship years. We probably wouldn't have won those championships had it not been for his defensive strategy. Really, really good defensive mind and really took us to a different level as a team."
Bach's calling card was on the defensive end as he helped develop a "Doberman" defense which was respected throughout the league.
"Johnny was a true treasure in the world of basketball," Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said in a statement. "He was the classic 'old-school' coach who came to work each and every day with energy and enthusiasm for the game he loved. His zest for life and basketball were unparalleled. He will be greatly missed by everyone in the Bulls family as well as everyone he connected with during his long tenure in both college and professional basketball."
Bach served as head coach at Fordham from 1950 to '68 and at Penn State from 1968 to '77. He garnered a lot of respect within the basketball world throughout his long and distinguished career.
"A great, great coach," Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "One of the real defensive-minded guys in the league and a really good guy from what everybody said. I wish I would have gotten to know him better ... Johnny's a highly respected guy going back to his college days and everything too, so there's very few more respected than he is."
Bach retired from coaching in the NBA in 2006 after stints with several teams, including another round with the Bulls.
"I feel very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to get to know Johnny Bach this summer," Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was around the office a lot. He told me a lot of stories actually about my grandfather and he remembered them so vividly. Ninety-one years old, just so sharp. Just told me so many things because they were both from the Northeast. Just a wonderful person, sat down and talked basketball with him every day that he was in the office. Absolutely a sad day."
As fans recounted some of their memories over the years, King spoke for many while remembering some of his favorite characteristics about the old coach.
"He was a pistol," King said. "The guy at 91 years old, still doing things that he loved to do up until the very end. Every time I saw him I kind of liked to gravitate to him because every time you saw him the energy that he has. If he could go out there right now and he could run two, three miles, he would have done it. Just had so much energy about him, so much life. It really hurts because you kind of take for granted someone's going to be here for a long, long time. And then when something like this happens to a person that means so much to you, it's really devastating."