In the last few months, basketball fans around the globe have been suffering badly without basket as COVID-19 has taken command of the world and shut most leagues down. With no Live games available to go to or watch, nights and weekends have become very boring for some. One can always relive those Celtics-Lakers battles of the 80´s on youtube, but there is only so much of the relive games you can watch before getting depressed and knowing that there is absolutely no Live basketball at the moment. Of course one can pass time anytime listening to Charles Barkley talk about the good old days in the NBA or check out the numerous debates and spats that NBA players have had on social media in the last months like “why Isaiah Thomas was really left off the 1992 Dream Team. But then again there was also a very unique thing shown which definitely made the whole COVID-19 basketball free time a bit easier to digest and that was the magnificent “The Last Dance” documentary that reviews the Chicago Bulls 1997-1998 season where they would win their 6th NBA title in 8 years. The Documentary puts the GOAT Michael Jordan in the spotlight and focuses on his brilliant career. The Last Dance has been an unforgettable ride for so many basketball fans and even showed the younger generation that the real GOAT is still Michael Jordan and not Lebron James. One basketball fanatic who watched the The Last Dance documentary was ex Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert. Like everyone else on earth, he has seen so many videos of Michael Jordan, but not many people can say that Jordan dunked over him. Herbert had the pleasure of battling Jordan and team USA at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in the semi-finals with Canada. Of course USA won and went on to win the Gold Medal, but for Herbert just being able to witness the GOAT in his early stage is something he will never forget. “It was a great documentary. Jordan is the GOAT. It was interesting to see what was going on in the 90´s. I didn´t see that then, because I was in Europe. In the 80´s you had scores in the 80´s and 70´s, now in the NBA you see scores of 110 and 120 points. The NBA was so much more physical then. I texted Bill Wennington who played on those title teams in the 90´s and told him how sad I thought it was that after they had won that 6th title, they had no chance of getting that 7th title, because management wanted to rebuild. Very rarely do you see a title team broken up. In 84, I remember hitting a long jumper over Jordan and team USA head coach Bobby Knight jumped up and yelled at Jordan. Jordan then got the ball and dunked over me. It was a blur for me” stated Gordon Herbert. Even if the main focus of Gordon Herbert in the last year was team Canada in his coaching duties, he did breathe a lot of NBA air as a coaching consultant for the Brooklyn Nets. After many many years with the Fraport Skyliners Gordon Herbert feels reborn and is now ready for the NBA.
It is a little after 4.00 pm in the afternoon central European time on a beautiful spring day in mid May 2020 when I reach a very relaxed and content sounding Gordon Herbert who has been taking in the COVID-19 time in his homeland Finland. He came from New York in March when the NBA suspended play where he had been working as a coaching consultant for the Brooklyn Nets. Because only general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson officially talk to the media, Herbert couldn´t say anything about his time there except that the Nets are a great organization and it was a great experience working with Atkinson. Basketball hasn´t been the only thing on his mind in the last months as COVID-19 has taken over the world. But Herbert has been very fortunate that the Coronavirus didn´t have a big effect on the country as it did in other places. “There has only been 1 case in the town I live in. Finland is ahead of the curve. Helsinki closed down for 3 weeks. Life has changed for all, but the main thing is that we all stay healthy. You can´t really do anything else except respect the rules and get back to some sort of normalcy”, expressed Gordon Herbert. The basketball free time has definitely been a massive change, but players have tried to keep busy. Obviously staying fit and healthy has been a huge focus while some also have tried starting their own Podcasts, producing YOU Tube work out video´s or taking part in Zoom conferences. Coaches like Gordon Herbert also have used the time to stay active which has given them a lot more free time than usual. “I have been doing a lot of gardening, but also staying active with basketball things. I watch a lot of basketball on the internet. I also have been in contact with my coaching colleagues like Nick Nurse, Kenny Atkinson and Klaus Perwas. You have a lot of time now and you try to make the best of it. I also have been reviewing individual developmental forms from team Canada players. I reach out to the players and let them think about what their strength and weaknesses are as well as what their long and short term goals are It is basically a road map of where they want to go with their game. They send me their thoughts and I review it. It is important that our time is invested well so they can get better in ways that haven´t been used before”, commented Gordon Herbert. Currently there is so much on Herbert´s mind as well as everyone else involved with basketball as to what the future of the sport is in the next 12 months. The ex Alba Berlin coach is content that world wide basketball will come away well from COVID-19. “I think that perhaps the 20-21 season will begin with games with no fans and social distancing and possibly having arena´s only 1/3 full. The NBA can start late, but in Europe, they have to respect the FIBA qualifying tournaments in June 2021. Europe has worked hard and I hope that in 2-3 months we will see change . Everyone has to understand that it won´t be easy. Players will have to take pay cuts. The most important thing is that the leagues are running and clubs can compete”, warned Gordon Herbert. A few hours before my phone call with Herbert, the easyCredit BBL got the green light from the German government to finish the season with a 10 team tournament in Munich. The Canadian hadn´t heard of the news until I told him and was very happy that the league will be able to complete their season. “I think that economics had a big part in this. Germany has done a great job during COVID-19 and have been ahead of many countries. Germany has a great leader. The BBL will have done everything possible to have this tournament be able to be played otherwise they wouldn´t have done it. Completing the season is very good for German basketball”, stated Gordon Herbert.
With COVID-19 all over the news, so many other things in life have taken a back seat and one of those is German basketball. There hasn´t been much new news except for a few teams like Crailsheim, Vecta and Munich signing new players for the tournament in Munich, but otherwise than that there has been little news in German basketball. But a day before the easyCredit BBL got the green light to complete the season came scorching news form the Fraport Skyliners that Gordon Herbert wasn´t returning to coach and that Sebastian Gleim would be roaming the sidelines for a second season. Officially Herbert had had a year off to coach the Canadian national team as it was his dream to coach at the Olympics. But with Canada playing so badly at the World Cup 2019, they only had one chance to advance playing at a Olympic qualifying tournament this summer, but because of COVID-19 that was postponed until 2021. On account of that the coach will continue with Canada and not Frankfurt. But Herbert also has a joker card in that he now has a foot back in the NBA. “I can´t get too much into the details. I had a contract with Skyliners for 20-21, but that was voided in March. The Canada position is a great opportunity. I want to combine the Canada job with the NBA. That is what I want to do now”, warned Gordon Herbert. Last season Herbert had duties with team Canada as associate head coach, but still had a role as a consultant with the Fraport Skyliners. But according to Herbert, he couldn´t perform that role. “I had a consultant job with the Skyliners until the end of June 2020, but I was more involved with the Brooklyn job. For the Skyliners I was available if needed, but I was never asked to do anything. I spent most of my time with team Canada and the Nets”, stated Gordon Herbet. Herbert displayed a very excited and refreshing attitude concerning the NBA, I fear that he will never be seen in Frankfurt again as a head coach. But in this case let me say, never say never. “Being able to work with Nick Nurse and Kenny Atkinson was a great experience. The NBA has changed so much. Both guys have worked up from ground zero. Both have great stories and have unbelievable positive energy. I learned a lot in both situations going forward. The last year has been so great for me mentally and physically. I feel like I´m 40 years old again. I haven´t felt this great since at least 12 or 13 years. Being around both coaches helped me so much mentally. It made me younger again”, warned Gordon Herbert. The season isn´t over yet for the Fraport Skyliners as they still could win the 2020 BBL title if very much goes right for them, but before COVID-19, the club had a very poor season winning only 6 of 21 games. Rookie BBL coach Sebastian Gleim had to pay his dues. “Sebastian had a tough year. I can´t really say too much since I only saw 2 games. He is such a hard worker and you usually learn more from a tough year than from a good year. He has the best assistant coach with Klaus Perwas. I wish nothing more than the best for him and the Fraport Skyliners”, warned Gordon Herbert. For so many years under Herbert, the Fraport Skyliners excelled on the defensive end, but the tide changed in Herbert´s last season and continued to be poor this season under Gleim. Herbert admits that he didn´t scout properly for the 2018-2019 season concerning the defensive aspect for the team. “I can´t speak on this season´s team, but my last season we recruited better offensive players like Brady Heslip. We were a good offensive team and played well in the Eurocup, but couldn´t cope with the physicality of the BBL. My mistake was not building a physical enough team. We had injuries to Akeem Vargas and were missing 2-3 tough players and that hurt our finesse players. I felt that we played well in the last 10 games, but we put ourselves too much in a hole before that stretch. Our secret to the success before that was that my teams always played as a team and we played great defense”, stressed Gordon Herbert.
The last season has been a great ride for the 2004 BBL winner with the Opel Skyliners even if the 2019 World Championships in China were a huge disappointment for Canada as they didn´t qualify to play for a medal and it didn´t go any better for Germany who were stocked with so many NBA players, but didn´t come together as a team and also didn´t play for a medal. “We had problems in that either some of our NBA players didn´t play or were injured. We also had a very tough group. There was a reason why it was called the group of death. Germany also had a very good team, but they had one tough game against the Dominican Republic which put them out. But this can always happen in a big tournament. One bad game can end it all”, stressed Gordon Herbert. Despite Canada´s unexpected poor showing in China, he is confident that the future of Canadian basketball is good with many new players coming up with NBA players Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett. Herbert´s start into becoming reborn again happened being able to work on a daily basis with Nick Nurse who only a few months before the World Championships had guided the Toronto Raptors to an incredible NBA title. For a guy like Herbert who has been coaching for almost 25 years has seen so much in his career, but to have so much new fire and ability to learn new things at age 60 is commendable. “Nurse brought such tremendous energy each day and is a great communicator with the players. He was so well prepared. He knew exactly how to play at both ends of the court. He had a completely different system to what I have ever seen in Europe. He gives players in practice tremendous self confidence. He has a good chance of being 2020 NBA coach of the year. He did a better job this season than last. It was a great learning experience for me”, stated Gordon Herbert. After the 2019 World Championships, he took on an extra job as a coaching consultant with the Brooklyn Nets. In the last year, there were 3 easyCredit BBL teams that contacted him to see what his coaching situation was. But it never got any farther than that, because he was tied to his Canada, Nets and Skyliner jobs. It is obvious after his amazing experience with the Nets that the NBA is his future now and he probably won´t be coming back to Europe for the 20-21 season. He also has been in contact with Chicago Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming who were coaching foes in the BBL for many years. “I feel that now I have the opportunity to remain in the NBA as an assistant coach. We will have to wait and see. COVID-19 has everything on freeze. I mean I do love the BBL and if the right offer came, I would consider it. Fleming was my closest coaching colleague in the BBL. We met a few times last season. We throw a lot of questions at each other. I was an assistant with the Toronto Raptors in 2008-2009 and the NBA is totally different now than 10 years ago. Now you have all the analytics on how to play offense and defense. I have been lucky to be able to learn the new NBA with Nurse and Atkinson. Now I´m ready for the NBA”, warned Gordon Herbert.
Even if the future of Gordon Herbert is in the NBA, there is absolutely no denying the fact that Frankfurt will always be like a second home for him and that the Fraport Skyliners organization have a huge place in his heart. He coached parts of 11 seasons in Frankfurt and helped guide the organization to 2 of it´s 3 team titles. Along then way he witnessed and helped guide Quantez Robertson to a brilliant professional career and coached him in 8 of his 11 seasons. It is no secret that both guys have a lot of admiration for each other. “Tez is one of the best players that I ever coached. He does so many things without scoring that helps you win. He rebounds so well, is a great passer and great defender. He grew so much as a leader. We had a great relationship. I was fortunate to have Pascal Roller early on and then had Tez. Tez does so much on the court with his toughness, determination and will. These are things that you can´t measure on the stat sheet. There are many players that can make offensive plays, but not very many players that can make defensive plays to change a game the way Tez can”, warned Gordon Herbert. Early in Herbert´s Skyliner career, he had captain Pascal Roller on his side who organized the team and led them to their first title together in 2004. “On account of our length of time we worked together and his philosophy, I feel like I was able to adapt most from him from all the coaches that I ever had. I liked his meticulous methods from the player development up to the game preparation. His success speaks for it´s self. I also respected his sense for dry humor”, stressed Pascal Roller. Herbert has helped develop so many good players that became great players that moved on like Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore. Another player that came to Frankfurt as a big talent and left becoming a Eurocup player was Philipp Scrubb. “Phil was our best player at the last February windows. He started well in Russia 2 years ago, but then tapered off. This past season he was up and down in Spain. I´m not sure if this had something to do with his confidence. He has such a great basketball IQ and we all know he can shoot the ball. He has to get more physical and finish better at the rim. But he is close to being a Euroleague player. I hope he gets there. If he wants to get there, then he has to do that in the next 2 years”, warned Gordon Herbert.
Another player that Gordon Herbert helped develop into an NBA player is young German Isaac Bonga. During Bonga´s 2 BBL years in Frankfurt from 2016-2018, Herbert always marveled about the German´s incredible work ethic. He feels that his current NBA gig with the Washington Wizards is the perfect fit. “I talked a couple times with Isaac before games. He is in a great situation. He didn´t play much with the Lakers, but now with Washington is in a rebuilding situation. He is a very limited role on offense, but is playing good defense and rebounding well. He is playing the right way”stressed Gordon Herbert. Herbert coached so many great players in Frankfurt and probably would have liked to have had Andrew Rautins for more than 15 games in the 2013-2014 season, but an injury ended his season shortly before 2014. A big reason why Frankfurt was able to haul in the Canadian sniper was because of Herbert´s great connection to the Rautins family. Papa Rautins Leo was teammates with Herbert on team Canada. The career of his son Andrew has been like a mystery. He was highly touted coming out of Syracuse, but his NBA career was short and lasted only 5 games. Since then he has been around Europe in Germany, Spain and Italy and spent most of his time in Turkey where he was 4 years. This season he was signed in January by Euroleague team Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (Greece-A1) where he played 5 games averaging 9.2ppg, 2.0rpg, 1.4apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 25.0%, 3PT: 52.0%, FT: 75.0%. “When Leo was a player he was the best out of Canada. Andy is a very talented player that is one of the best shooters that you will ever see and is also a good passer. He had a great year in Turkey 2 years ago. It was always Andy´s goal to play in the NBA. There were a few times where he could of made the NBA or was close. He never really was set on playing in Europe”, said Gordon Herbert. 11 years in Frankfurt was a long and mostly very successful time. When I dodged Gordie the question if one could ever see him on the sidelines in Frankfurt, he quickly skipped the question and raved on about Tez one more time. Of course Fraport Skyliner lifer Tez had to give his 2 cents about Gordon Herbert. ““I´m happy for him. Now he doesn´t have to go through those stressful practices that he had with us at times. I will always remember us winning our first championship together. I also won´t forget him having so much trust in me. What I admire most from him is that you have to live in the moment and can´t worry about the past and always be ready. I will miss him. He was my favorite coach to play for”, remembered Quantez Robertson. Herbert also had a few words about how proud he was of being able to help develop players and coaches. Three of his best moments were with his son Daniel, Jordan Theodore and Johannes Richter. “It was a dream for me to work with Daniel a year ago and see his development. It really helped him that Klaus Perwas took him under his wing. I believe that Daniel has a great future with his personality and ability to communicate with people. When he was 15, he recommended Kyle Hines to me. Kyle was A-2 in Italy. I thought he was too small. During my season in Berlin, he told me to take Marcus Slaughter, but I didn´t. He has a great eye for talent. Another great moment was the development of Jordan Theodore as a person and teammate. I believe that he really found himself with us as he came into a great culture with us. He is absolutely a great kid. Another very important player in my time was Johannes Richter. He gave 100% every day in practice. A great teammate in the locker room and off the floor. The best 9/10 man that I ever had. The coaching staff worked very hard in Frankfurt to create a great system and develop players. At one time we were the team where all young Germans wanted to come play for. I will always remember the big 3 with Johannes Voigtmann, Danilo Barthel and Konsti Klein. Those 3 guys worked so hard to get better and went places. I´m very grateful for the opportunity that the Fraport Skyliners gave me over the years. I want to give a big thanks to Thomas Kunz, Gunnar Wobke and Klaus Perwas. I also want to thank everyone from the office who worked so hard. I also want to thank the faithful Skyliner fans for their support over the years”, stressed Gordon Herbert. Another ex Skyliner who has a lot of admiration and thankfulness towards Gordon Herbert is ex NBA player Mario Kasun who played an instrumental part in the 2004 Skyliner title season. “Coach Herbert was my mentor, my everything. He knew how to push the right buttons to get the best out of his players. I´m so happy for him. He deserves the NBA. I´m proud to have been part of his legacy. He is the best coach that I ever had”, stressed ex Orlando Magic Mario Kasun. I know that there are no hard feelings in Frankfurt about the departure of Gordon Herbert. He gave Frankfurt so much success and joy and now everyone is supporting him and wishing him all the best with the next step in his career in the NBA. Sometime in the future #23 of Quantez Robertson will be up sitting next to Pascal Roller´s retired #11 in the Fraport arena. It is too bad that only players can be recognized this way and not coaches. If coaches wore numbers then Gordon Herbert´s number would also be hanging up there.