Even though the annual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony takes place Friday night in Springfield, Massachusetts, it would feel right at home in Chicago. Why? Because five participants in this weekend’s festivities have ties to the Chicago Bulls.
Three will be enshrined for playing and coaching. Two more will be honored for their off the court accomplishments. And it’s been my pleasure to have covered or worked with each of these five individuals. In fact, sometimes it felt like a ringside seat.
Dennis Rodman earned his first two championships with the Detroit Pistons. However, “The Worm”, added three more with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Playing in Chicago was more of a coming out party for the colorful, controversial power forward. But underneath his many tattoos and his zaniness was an unbelievable talent.Rodman was only 6’6”, 220 pounds - small by NBA standards - and yet he consistently out-rebounded and out-defended his bigger opponents. He was not a textbook rebounder. He used his strength, balance and his volleyball-like tipping skills to capture the ball.
Sure, Rodman would wear a feathery boa or a wedding dress off the court, but on the court he was all business. Well, for the most part. There were a few occasions when Dennis Rodman would be a little unorthodox.
One story that players like to tell about Rodman concerns another Hall of Famer, Utah’s Karl Malone. During the ’96-97 NBA Finals, these two power forwards were a dream match-up. As they tangled under the basket, the Chicago forward planted a kiss on “the Mailman”. Players from that Bulls team insist that the kiss caught Malone off guard and distracted him.
Rodman had some interesting rituals that made him stand further apart from other players. Most players prefer not to eat heavily just before the game. Not Dennis, he would sashay into the United Center with a large takeout order of seafood.
Questions often asked of me about Rodman include, “What was he like to cover?” or “Is he as crazy as he looks?” My answer is probably a bit different than most reporters. Dennis was likable and irreverent. And when he found out my sister was a tattoo artist it was kismet. He would always give me a thoughtful and entertaining interview.
Seven NBA rebounding titles and five championship rings assured Rodman his right to enter the Hall of Fame. Former Bulls coach Phil Jackson will be presenting Rodman, and when Dennis gives his speech, expect the unexpected but also some heartfelt tears.
Another former Chicago Bull will also be enshrined, Artis Gilmore. The seven foot-two center with the large Afro hairstyle waited twenty-three years to gain entrance.
The “A-Train” was drafted by both the Bulls and the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels in 1971. He signed a lucrative contract with the Colonels and was a dominant player in that league. Gilmore wound up with the Bulls when the ABA disbanded. He played for the Bulls from 1978 to 1982. Unfortunately, he arrived a little late to the party of the glory Bulls of the early ‘70’s. The Bulls never seemed to have the players that could fit Gilmore’s talent.
The day after the 1987 draft, when the Bulls brought their top draft pick, Brad Sellers, in to see the media, they re-introduced Gilmore to us. It was my first encounter with Artis. He was a massive man, with an intimidating look. But Gilmore, as it turned out, was anything but intimidating; he was very considerate and gentle.
Unfortunately, he was at the end of his great career and, hampered by injuries, didn’t play much during his last tour with the Bulls. But when he finished his seventeen year career, his NBA field goal percentage was 59.9 percent. It is still the best mark of any player with at least two thousand shots made. And Gilmore is still the Bulls career-leader for blocked shots.
Tex Winter was the guru of the triangle offense. He looked like a college professor carrying his binder. His love for the game guided him for almost sixty years, as a head coach and assistant. Winter had a long college career, including guiding the Northwestern Wildcats from 1973-1978.However, his path the Hall of Fame truly began when he was hired as an assistant by Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause in 1985. When Phil Jackson later became the team’s head coach, he relied on Winter to guide the Bulls offense to win championships. Although Michael Jordan would balk at this offensive scheme, other players, especially the team’s big men and outside shooters, flourished under it.
As a reporter, it was easy to get Tex to light up his eyes and get excited. How? All you had to do was ask him to explain the triangle offense.
In all, Tex earned nine NBA titles with Phil Jackson, in Chicago and later, with the Los Angeles Lakers. And it was Jackson who led the charge to get Tex Winter in the Hall of Fame. So, it is fitting that Jackson will have double duty as a presenter, as he will do the honor for Winter as well as Rodman.
Unfortunately, a stroke in 2009 has diminished Winter’s health, so he is not expected to speak, but he will be on hand for the honors.
The last two Hall of Fame entrants are both Chicago natives and though they their tools-of-the-trade are off the court, they’ve played an instrumental role in the game nevertheless.
Jim Durham will receive the 2011 Curt Gowdy Media Award. The honor goes to members of print and electronic media for significant contributions to made to the game of basketball.
Durham began his career in Bloomington, Illinois announcing Illinois State basketball games that starred former Bulls coach Doug Collins. Starting in 1972, Chicago Bulls fans remember him as the team’s radio voice. Later, he would simulcast radio and television broadcasts.
His distinct crisp and informative play-by-play style is the gold standard for sports broadcasting. His favorite - and most memorable call - occurred in game 5 of the 1989 NBA playoffs, when Michael Jordan launched a dagger over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in a moment that became immortalized as “The Shot”.
I was working for the Bulls’ flagship station at the time, sitting directly behind Jim and his partner, John “Red” Kerr at that game. It was one of the most exciting moments in NBA history featuing the game’s most electrifying player, and a tremendous radio voice captured it all.
Durham left the Bulls after the 1991 season in an unfortunate contract dispute. Currently, he is ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice for NBA broadcasts.
And finally, Chicagoan Brian McIntyre, a man who is largely unknown to most people outside of the world of sports media.
But he is revered by the legions of reporters, producers, technicians and broadcasters who have worked with him as the NBA’s head of media relations for more than three decades. For the people who cover sporting event, it’s vital to work with someone who understands the media and how it works - and Brian McIntyre did better than most.
After graduating from Loyola University, McIntyre began his career with the Chicago Bulls as their media relations director, before moving on to a similar post with the league in 1981. But McIntyre always remembered his Chicago roots - and for the Bulls championship runs, he made sure to take care of the people he knew from his days with the team.
He will receive the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
A Chicago Dynasty in Springfield
Two years ago, the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame honored Michael Jordan. Last year, it was Scottie Pippen’s turn. And this year, the Hall will honor Dennis Rodman, Artis Gilmore, Tex Winter, Jim Durham, and Brian McIntyre. Not bad if you’re keeping score.
And, who knows? Maybe several years from now another Chicagoan, Derrick Rose, will join them as well.