The Bulls should retire Norm Van Lier’s number

The Bulls should retire Stormin Normans number. Immediately.

The Bulls should retire Stormin' Norman's number. Immediately.

Here’s a list of the former Chicago Bulls players, coaches and general managers whose “numbers” have been retired:

Bob Love
Jerry Krause
Jerry Sloan
Michael Jordan
Phil Jackson
Scottie Pippen

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.

More Norm:
Norm Van Lier: My Most MemoraBull Game
Norm Van Lier – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Norm Van Lier Statistics –
Midland’s Norm Van Lier inducted into WPIAL Hall of Fame


10 Responses to The Bulls should retire Norm Van Lier’s number

    Boppinbob March 3, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Hear! Hear! Norm Van Lier’s number should definitely be retired both as a player and an analyst. He played with heart and total effort all the time he was on the court. As a fan you could count on him for a fair appraisal of the teams performance on all games that he covered. Many players felt the heat of Van Lier’s criticism. Pippen felt it on many occassions, espically for the migraine incident and the Pippen/Kukoc flap while Michael was playing baseball. That was the time that Phil Jackson called Kukoc’s number for a last second shot to win a game and Pippen took himself out of the game. Stormin Norman’s number should definitely be retired

    Tony C. March 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more, Matt. In fact, Sloan and Van Lier really personified the Bulls more than MJ (i.e. more about determination than talent, though MJ obviously had both).

    birdie March 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    I agree that Van Lier’s number should be retired but I also think that is embarassing that Bulls retired only 2 numbers from generation which won 6 championship rings. Some clubs retire number of some players although they didn’t win anything. I think that Kukoc’s number 7 should be retired too.

    t-rocc March 3, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    i completely agree, Matt. and boy do I miss both of those guys on the telecasts…

    thirdsaint March 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    Completely agree here too. Loved hearing his commentary and I’m sure it helped light a fire under some players at points of their career here. His number should be retired and Krause’s banner should be torn down. :-/

    bobbysimmons March 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    Norm was a great guy and all, but he shouldn’t have his number retired. You point to the defensive teams he was on during his career, yet remember the league had less than 20 teams back then, so it’s not as big as an accomplishment as it is today. You guys just all love him because he was on Bull Post Game Live for all those years, by the same logic in 20 years people will be clamoring for Stacey King’s number to be retired. Retired numbers should be reserved for only truly elite basketball players.

    bobbysimmons March 3, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    but i do agree that he shouldn’t have to bear the disgrace of having Pargo or Eddy Curry wear his number

    Noor Hammad March 5, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Hear, hear. Completely agree.

    Noor Hammad

  9. Terry Hegarty March 9, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    Norm Van Lier should have his #2 jersey retired. He represents everything a chicago sports fan loves: defense and toughness.


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