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Tom Thibodeau almost chose Hornets but took Doc Rivers’ advice and came to Bulls

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau left look during first half an NBA

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) and Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, left, look on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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at Bulls

The facts: 7, TNT,

Updated: March 17, 2012 10:25AM

Bulls center Joakim Noah takes friendly shots at coach Tom Thibodeau whenever he can.

Noah dismisses Thibo-deau’s Division III playing career, for example. And when asked about how the defensive-oriented Thibodeau will handle coaching the Eastern Conference in the wide-open All-Star Game later this month, first came the infectious grin, then the needle.

“He’s got the personality for it,” Noah said sarcastically.

Seconds later, when Thibodeau walked into the locker room after the victory Tuesday night over the Sacramento Kings, Noah was the first to congratulate him for gaining the All-Star nod. His sincerity illustrated the depth of the relationship Thibodeau has with his ­players. That relationship goes to the heart of the team’s success.

The one-dimensional coach fans and the media see isn’t the same “Thibs” players know behind closed doors.

“Thibs has this exterior,’’ said Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who was Thibodeau’s boss before he came to Chicago. ‘‘He’s a great guy. You don’t see that, but his players see that.

‘‘That was part of the ­reason he wasn’t hired. They thought he was a guy who couldn’t get along with everybody. Thibs just works, and he expects everybody else to work just as hard as him, which is impossible. But when you’re around him, he’s a ­terrific personality.

‘‘I’m trying to think of another coach, [New England Patriots coach Bill] Belichick maybe is similar in that way away from it. His players see that. That’s all that really matters, whether you can get your players to buy in, and he has.”

Thibodeau had to wait 20 years before getting his first chance to become an NBA head coach, but when he got his opportunity, what an ­opportunity it was. It’s not often that a first-year coach is handed a young superstar such as Derrick Rose and a roster that so fits the style he wants to play that he’s able to win a regular-season-best 62 games.

Surprisingly, Rivers said he had to persuade Thibodeau to take the Bulls job over an offer from the New Orleans Hornets during the Celtics’ 2009-10 postseason run.

“He had two jobs,” said Rivers, whose Celtics play the Bulls on Thursday night at the United Center. “You can ask him. He was leaning toward one, and I grabbed him by the shoulders and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You get a chance to coach Derrick Rose, and you’re ­going to take another job? Are you nuts? We laugh about it now. They were ­offering him a longer deal and a bigger deal. I literally said, ‘If it’s a penny to go there and $10 million to go to the other place, I’m going with the penny. In the long run, you’ll be allowed to coach and allowed to win, which will allow you to coach more.’ He made a great choice.”

He made a great choice, all right. The Bulls made a great choice, too.

“For everybody, it’s ­different,” Thibodeau said of the path coaches take to their first head-coaching job. “You have to be fortunate. There are different roads to get there. When you do get there, you have to get the job done, and hopefully you have a good team to do that. I feel like I was very fortunate to get this job.”

Thibodeau said Rivers, a former Proviso East star, was a willing ambassador for his hometown.

“He certainly voiced his opinion,” Thibodeau said. “With Doc, anything in ­Chicago, he’s for.

‘‘As you know, he’s a very good friend of mine, and we talk all the time. I certainly value his opinion.”

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