Pep Guardiola has had a massive impact on the way modern soccer is understood, but he is also having a role in the NBA. On Monday, the Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA Championship with a win over the Dallas Mavericks. Joe Mazzulla, the head coach of the Celtics, became the youngest head coach in over half a century to win an NBA Championship at 35 years old. That youthful understanding of the sport keeps his mind open, and that has led to a connection with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Speaking after winning the NBA Championship, Mazzulla credited some of his success to the Spanish coach. Manchester City has made a habit of breaking down defenses with massive amounts of possession. In the NBA, the shot clock and the nature of scoring make that a more challenging prospect. Yet, the prowess of City’s build-up play helped Mazzulla as a coach.

“Dallas has one of the smartest defenses. We had to be creative to counter them. Pep helped me in transitions and how to move guys,” Mazzulla said.

The Celtics coach is a noted fan of Guardiola, and the City manager even made an appearance at TD Garden in game one of the NBA Finals. Previously, Mazzulla said the way Manchester City builds out of the back impacted how he coaches his players. The pass-happy style of Manchester City reflects well in the way the Celtics play. Boston averaged 23.8 assists per game on field goals, which ranked fifth in the 2023/24 NBA season. That means the Celtics were providing assists for one another 61% of their baskets. In other words, it took the individuality out of an otherwise individual sport. One Celtics player even said Mazzulla wanted his players to replicate how Manchester City shares the ball.

Connection between Pep Guardiola and NBA is clear

Mazzulla’s praise for Guardiola and Manchester City goes beyond just kind words. This season, the Celtics’ head coach made a trip over to Manchester to see City in its preparations for a game against Brentford. Not only did Mazzulla have the chance to meet Guardiola, but he saw the way the side trained. Additionally, he spoke to players before and after their training sessions.

As stated, Guardiola made an appearance in Boston during the NBA Finals. Cameras captured Mazzulla and Guardiola chatting. Although it is anyone’s guess to speculate what they talked about, Mazzulla expressed his gratitude for Guardiola as a friend and colleague.

“So, I’m very grateful for him, and I’d like to think that we make each other better. So, it’s great that he was here. It’s great that he was able to share some of his wisdom and got to spend time with him,” Mazzulla said.

Other American sports tied to soccer

Joe Mazzulla is not the first American coach to give credit to a soccer manager. For example, the new head coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Brian Callahan, gave a shoutout to Jurgen Klopp during his introductory press conference.

“There’s a quote from Jurgen Klopp. I didn’t want to rip it off and present it as my own,” Callahan said. “He’s a soccer coach at Liverpool and said at one point that when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together you can create something special. That’s what I believe in. That’s what we’ll do here.”

Klopp responded with words of encouragement for an American football coach rearing for the biggest job of his career.