Here’s a list of the former Chicago Bulls players, coaches and general managers whose “numbers” have been retired:
Jackson and (cough, cough) Krause didn’t have numbers, obviously, but there are two banners in their honor hanging in the United Center rafters. That’s a fairly complete group, even if Jordan and Pippen would probably rather use Krause’s banner to clean their bathrooms than see it hanging in the UC.
One notable — and borderline unforgivable — omission from that list: Norm Van Lier’s number 2. Even worse, Norm’s number is currently being worn by Jannero Pargo.
Something needs to be done about this. Immediately if not sooner.
No offense to Pargo, but he shouldn’t be wearing that number. Nobody should. It should have a place of honor alongside the other Bulls legends. No, he wasn’t a part of six league championships like Jordan, Pippen, Jackson and (cough, cough) Krause. But isn’t Norm’s resume just as impressive Bob Love’s and Jerry Sloan’s.
Yeah. Yeah it is.
This is something that has been on my mind ever since Norm passed away last year, and my passion for the subject was reignited last week when the Bulls aired a tribute video in honor of Norm and the late Johnny “Red” Kerr.
Van Lier – nicknamed “Stormin’ Norman” during his playing days because he was a serious hombre — never received the appreciation he deserved. It’s weird, too, because he had an amazing career: One league assist title (1971), one All-NBA Second Team selection (1974), three All-Star Game appearances (1974, 1976, 1977), three All-Defensive First Team selections (1974, 1976, 1977) and five All-Defensive Second Team selections (1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1978).
Think about that: He was one of the best defensive players in the world for almost a decade.
Norm never averaged 25+ PPG for the Bulls, like Love did. Nor did he ever bring an NBA title to the Windy City. No, Norm’s game was about toughness, hustle, defensive tenacity and a team-first attitude. He wanted to win every game, every night. In that respect, he was right up there with the likes of all-time greats like Bill Russell and MJ. He had that much heart.
At least the people of Chicago realized that. Norm was a member of the most beloved Bulls team that didn’t include Michael Jordan. That 1970s squad featured guys like Love, Sloan, Chet Walker and Tom Boerwinkle. None of those players will ever crack the NBA Pantheon, but they played the same kind of selfless, team-first basketball that earned near sainthood for the 1970s era Knicks in New York.
And despite the notable lack of star power, those Bulls managed three consecutive 50-win seasons (four if you count the year before Norm arrived), an epic seven-game semifinal series against Wilt Chamberlain’s Lakers in 1973, and two trips to the Western Conference Finals in 1974 (when they lost to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks) and 1975 (when they lost a bitterly contested seven-game series to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors, who would go on to win the title).
Sadly, those facts seem to have scattered on the winds of history.
Current Bulls fans probablyremember Norm as a cantankerous and outspoken studio analyst for Comcast Sportsnet. Nobody had a quicker temper for careless play than Norm, and he would absolutely lay waste to the Bulls when the players weren’t giving their best. Norm just coulnd’t watch the boys in red dog it when he would have walked through artillary fire to win.
But he still loved them like a wayward child. As Love said after he heard about Norm’s passing: “Man oh man, me and Norm were just together Tuesday night. As usual, he was expressing his love for the team and the franchise. He said, ‘Butter, a lot of times I may sound critical on TV but it’s just because I love these guys so much and I want them to win.’ People might have taken that the wrong way. But he had passion like nobody else and just wanted to be loved.”
That was Norm in a nutshell. When Kerr was honored shortly before his passing, President Barack Obama described Kerr as “the fan on the bar stool next to us.” Which he was. Well, Norm was the rascally old grandfather filled with a mind full of wisdom and a belly full of fire. He was never afraid to tell it like it was, nor would he waste an opportunity to teach a lesson that needed to be learned, even if, at times, those lessons weren’t taken to heart or (again) fully appreciated.
When Norm passed on, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said: “Norm Van Lier was one of the all-time greats ever to put on a Chicago Bulls uniform. Along with Jerry Sloan, he set a standard for Bulls defense and toughness which we will never forget and which we will always strive to replicate.”
It’s time — long past time, actually — for Reinsdorf to pay heed to his own words and retire Norm’s number. That way, we never will forget.
Norm Van Lier: My Most MemoraBull Game
Norm Van Lier – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Norm Van Lier Statistics – Basketball-Reference.com
Midland’s Norm Van Lier inducted into WPIAL Hall of Fame