The first Chicago Bulls team in 1966
The first Bulls team came into existence in 1966, the same year young Benny arrived in Evanston. Credit: Courtesy Chicago Bulls

It’s an hour or so before game time, and I’m up in the nosebleed section, waiting for my beloved Bulls to start playing, and wondering what, oh what, to write about for the Best of Chicago issue.

And all of a sudden it hits me—right there in front of my face. Up on the huge, center-court scoreboard is the video montage tribute to celebrated Bulls players and coaches from the team’s first year until now.

And that’s when I knew my Best of Chicago entry would be . . . that montage! The one they play before every Bulls game but that you may have missed. Unless you’re so thirsty, you get to games real early. Like me.

So, yes, yes—a shout-out to the Bulls marketing department or whoever’s responsible for that video trip down memory lane.

I make a point of watching it every time I visit the United Center. If I’m chatting with a friend, I halt the conversation so I can give it my full attention, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times before.

People say—man, what’s with you and your love for the Bulls? And I’m like—how much time do we have?

It’s more than just love for the game—though I love the game very much. It’s more personal than that for me.

My family moved to Evanston from Rhode Island back in 1966, when I was a wee lad of ten.

Coincidentally, that was the same year the Bulls came into existence. So you might say their history is my history. They’re the only one of the Big Five teams in Chicago for which this is so.

I can’t tell you about September 1953, when Ernie Banks broke in with the Cubs.

Or September 1959, when the city’s fire commissioner set off the air-raid sirens to celebrate the Sox winning the American League pennant.

Or the summer of 1965, when a couple of rookies named Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus showed up at Bears training camp.

Or the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship in 1961.

But with the Bulls? There’s no time before my time. I remember the first year with Red Kerr as coach. They made the playoffs. I listened to games on a transistor radio. And when they lost in round one—swept by the Hawks, then in Saint Louis—I cried.

Yes, people, I cried. Real tears. Happy to say I’ve moved on from crying at tough losses. Now I mostly howl at the moon and say nasty things about the refs.

Speaking of which—on Saturday, the Grizzlies were riding DeMar DeRozan like a horse on that final play, and everybody knows it, even if the refs pretended not to see.

Anyway, the montage starts with that inaugural season and goes through the years to current times. As it unwinds, I’ve been known to narrate it for my friends. Pointing out such Bulls as . . .

Johnny “Red” Kerr. Jerry Sloan. Bob Love. Chet Walker. Norm Van Lier . . . and on and on through Jordan and Pippen and Rodman and Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose and so on and so forth right up to DeRozan.

And when the montage is over, I always have this little lump in my throat as I think about time passing.

So thank you, marketing department, for giving this old Bulls fan a nice trip through basketball history. But as long as I have your attention, here’s a suggestion. Or two. Or three . . .

First of all, in the montage, let’s get a shout-out to Craig Hodges—one of my all-time favorite Bulls.

Hodges was, of course, the great shooter who won three consecutive three-point shooting contests. His role was pivotal in the 1991 sweep of the Pistons.

Then in October of 1991, President Bush invited the champion Bulls to the White House. And Hodges showed up in a full-length dashiki with an eight-page letter for Bush that laid out the need to invest in Black communities.

It was considered very radical. The Bulls dropped Hodges after the 1991-’92 season. No team picked him up, and just like that his career was over—though he was still a great shooter.

The NBA didn’t even invite Hodges to defend his three-point shooting title at the 1993 All-Star Game. It took a hard-hitting Tribune article by Sam Smith to embarrass the league into extending an invitation.

Come to think of it—Hodges was barely mentioned in The Last Dance, the epic documentary on the Jordan championship run.

So you might say he got the ultimate black ’n’ white treatment—blacklisted by the league and whitewashed from the history books.

While we’re on the subject of paying tribute to some of my favorite Bulls . . .

I think we’ll all agree it’s time to retire at least three more jerseys:

John Paxson—who hit so many big shots through the years.

Chet Walker, the closest the 70s Bulls had to Elgin Baylor or Dr. J.

And my all-time favorite—Norm Van Lier.

Norm was the heart and soul of those teams from the 70s who were really good, but not good enough to get by the Bucks (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor) or the Lakers with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West or the Warriors with . . .

You know, I’d just as soon not relive that 1975 series against the Warriors.

Van Lier played in the backcourt with Jerry Sloan. They were inseparable—a fearsome defensive unit. Couldn’t say one without saying the other: Sloan and Van Lier. Or Van Lier and Sloan. And yet, Sloan’s jersey is retired, but Van Lier’s is not.

Think about it, marketing gurus . . .

You could have a Norm Van Lier appreciation night. Retire his jersey at halftime. And play his favorite rock ’n’ roll tunes all night long. Led Zeppelin, Chicago, the Rolling Stones—the man really loved classic rock. 

The United Center would be packed with old-timers like yours truly who’ve been with the team every step of the way.

Just a suggestion from an appreciative fan in the nosebleed section.

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Best of Chicago 2021 is
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sponsored in part by

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