The late George Steinbrenner has been described as brusque as Gen. George S. Patton, a screaming bully and ultimate perfectionist who did not take losing well.
That is why Steinbrenner’s reaction to his first viewing of Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau back in 1999 during the NBA’s July summer league was revealing.
At the time, Thibodeau was a Knicks assistant to Jeff Van Gundy and the anointed summer-league coach.
On July 31, 1999, Steinbrenner paid a visit to a Knicks-Nets game at UMass-Boston, during a Yankees-Red Sox series in Boston. At the time, the Yankees were forming a partnership with the Nets via YES Network.
“The Boss’’ came to see the Nets and their summer-league coach Eddie Jordan. But Thibodeau’s sideline behavior overshadowed Steinbrenner’s visit as he sat in the bleachers with associates and The Post’s Yankees beat writer George King III.
According to King, Steinbrenner acted stunned by Thibodeau’s ferocity on the sidelines as he harangued the referees and repeatedly barked instructions to his players on every possession. Even Steinbrenner thought it was too much. And this had nothing to do with Thibodeau being a Red Sox fan from New Britain, Conn.
“This isn’t right,’’ the forever bombastic Steinbrenner said aloud as he watched the game. “He’s too intense. It’s just a summer-league game. It’s just summer league.”
As Thibodeau’s theatrics raged on, Steinbrenner, who didn’t know Thibodeau’s name until that night, kept repeating: “What is he doing now? What is he doing now?”
Van Gundy sat behind the bench, King recalls, and the former Knicks head coach, too, was railing at the referees. Van Gundy said this week he doesn’t recall Steinbrenner in attendance. (The former Yankees owner was sitting on the opposite side from the Knicks’ bench.)
Thibodeau has often said he’s adjusted and changed from his Chicago and Minnesota head-coaching days, when he would get a hoarse throat on the sidelines screaming orders.
Thibodeau was fired by Minnesota in January 2019 with a perception he was too gruff with the players.
The Post has reported the Knicks view Thibodeau’s New York return as similar to drill sergeant Tom Coughlin joining the Giants. Coughlin softened up from his Jacksonville days to win two Super Bowl titles.
On Wednesday, Thibodeau finished up the NBA’s three-week, in-market voluntary organized team activities for the “Delete 8” — the eight clubs not part of the Orlando restart.
To the point of easing up, Thibodeau had cut short the club’s group practices in a bubble setting last week, as some veterans left town. Only non-contact “individual workouts’’ with coaches were conducted in the final few days with some stragglers.
In a Zoom interview, Thibodeau said creating rapport and working on conditioning were the major keys of OTAs.
“It was critical to get to know the players and get the players to know us,’’ Thibodeau said. “Some of it was five-on-five drillwork, five-on-five scrimmage, some of it was buildup, whether two-on-two and then going to three-on-three. So we did a little bit of everything. The big thing was trying to figure out what type of shape everyone was in. The conditioning piece will be critical for us. That’s the first step — for everyone to be in great shape.”
According to a source, unlike other years, players can still work out supervised by coaches since there is no set date for training camp. Thibodeau said he plans to spend time with players “out of market’’ and is waiting for NBA guidelines.
“We’re planning on spending a lot of time with our players this offseason,’’ Thibodeau said.
That is a plan Steinbrenner would approve.
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