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Johnny "Red" Kerr Night | A Fan’s Perspective

Lifelong Bulls fan Josh Van Pelt talks about making the trip to the United Center for Johnny “Red” Kerr Night, and what the basketball icon means to him.
Johnny 'Red' Kerr

A Fan’s Perspective: A Picture with Red

Video: Watch the entire halftime ceremony to honor "Red" Kerr
Photo Gallery: Johnny "Red" Kerr
Tribute Poster (sponsored by Harris): .PDF | .JPG

Johnny 'Red' Kerr Night Van Pelt was fortunate enough to meet Kerr prior to the Bulls' preseason game in Lawrence, Kansas two season ago.
(Photo courtesy of Josh Van Pelt)

By Josh Van Pelt

A simple photograph is all it was.

The shot, taken with nothing more than a disposable Kodak camera, featured myself and Johnny “Red” Kerr. It was snapped just before the start of the Chicago Bulls-Seattle SuperSonics preseason contest in Lawrence, Kansas in October of 2006. This normal, average, everyday snapshot is so much more than just a picture, despite its’ seemingly regular appearance. This picture serves as a testimony to a man who has meant so much to so many, be they the common fan or famous celebrities.

Back in 2006, my wife and I had made the four-hour journey from our home in Lincoln, Nebraska on a complete and total whim to catch my all-time favorite team in action. We had an unbelievable time in Lawrence, thanks to the Bulls. I was in a true state of Bulls-induced euphoria before even entering the arena. I was fortunate enough to meet forward Andrés Nocioni while standing in line awaiting pickup of our pre-purchased tickets (the Bulls had pulled up in a tinted-window coach bus, Nocioni just happened to step off and grab his own bags that day). I was sure nothing could make the day any better, no matter what happened at the game. For one of the few times in my life, I was excited to be wrong.

Upon entering the arena, we found our nosebleed seats high in the corner of the storied Allen Fieldhouse. Even though we were ecstatic just to be there, we decided to go down closer to the court before the action began to get a few pictures of the players and coaches prior to tipoff. As we anxiously snapped photos of all our favorite Bulls and the coaching staff, we happened to notice Kerr standing just a few feet away from us chatting with Wayne Larrivee prior to going on-air for WGN. Seeing Red just so close to us, I was struck momentarily speechless as a lifetime of memories flooded back to me.

Hailing from a farm family in a small central Nebraska town, the only means of enjoying Chicago Bulls basketball growing up was via the WGN Superstation and NBC when the Bulls were nationally televised. Any time the Bulls were on, I was instantly transported to a better place for a few hours. Johnny “Red” Kerr was the one who served as my own personal Bulls tour guide during the vast majority of the games I was fortunate enough to see. I felt like every time he was on, I was learning something new and noteworthy about the Bulls.

Johnny 'Red' Kerr Night After an 8-hour drive from Nebraska, Van Pelt was ready to cheer on the Bulls.
(Photo courtesy of Josh Van Pelt)

In that moment, I also remembered back to the day I found a well-worn copy of Kerr’s “Bull Run” in our local library’s 25-cents-and-less rack. I was both irritated (how can they sell his book?) and exhilarated as I ran the book up to the counter, plunked the quarter down and ran outside to the family car with my newfound treasure. I must have plowed through that book in three days, not a bad feat for a fourth grader.

The memories just kept coming and coming, but the one constant was that Red had something to do with nearly every single Bulls memory I have. Even though I grew up with Michael Jeffrey Jordan as my childhood idol, I always deemed Red as the “head of the Bulls family.”

At my wife’s urging, I snapped out of my Red daze and approached him nervously. To my great surprise and shock, he was wonderful to the both of us. He was extremely interested in the fact that we were Bulls fans from the heart of Husker football country and that we’d come all that way to watch a preseason contest. He thanked us for attending, snapped a picture with me and went on his way. It was such a small moment of his time, something that probably was routine for him, but it made such an incredible impression on us. So much of an impression, in fact, that we had to find our way to the United Center to give him our thanks when the Bulls announced that he would be honored on February 10th.

When we decided we’d attend, the economy was mired deep within its’ ugly slide. Money was extremely tight, job issues had arisen for us and there was a general malaise around anyone we dealt with. Despite the challenges, we made up our minds that we had to make this work. We packed up the car Tuesday morning around 7 a.m. and began the 16-hour round trip trek to the United Center.

The trip to Chicago was fairly smooth, for the most part. We made a few pit stops along the way for important things like gas and food, but otherwise it was strictly driving for us in order to get to the game on time. We found a parking spot shortly after 6 p.m., tired of driving but eager to partake in the evening’s festivities.

We hadn’t been back to the United Center since the season opener in 2005, so of course we had to take in the usual sights and sounds for the first few minutes of being inside. We collected our special “Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr Night” posters, listened to the live music, purchased some Bulls items from Fandemonium and picked up some dinner from the nearest concession stand. After all that, it was time to find our seats.

Johnny 'Red' Kerr Night Van Pelt's view of the ceremony from Section 318.
(Photo courtesy of Josh Van Pelt)

Upon finding the seats in section 318, we were incredibly pleased with the view of the court below. We were able to comfortably see everything happening right in front of us. After the usual starting lineup fanfare and tipoff, we both continued to be amazed at how diverse the crowd was that cheered their respective lungs out right along with us. From an elementary school fan sitting below us holding up a pro-Red sign to the elderly woman seated behind us clutching her very own Red poster, it truly was amazing to see such a wide range of individuals coming together to support the Bulls and to show Red love on this particular evening.

While the game itself was fantastic as the Bulls prevailed over the rival Pistons in dramatic fashion, the biggest reason we traveled from such a great distance was for Red’s halftime ceremony. We didn’t come away disappointed, as the ceremony itself was easily one of the most moving experiences we’ve ever had. I’m assuming others felt the same way, as there wasn’t a dry eye or an empty seat anywhere around us.

It was great to see Red get the support he so richly deserves, and I feel so very fortunate to have been there and to have been a part of it. It was uplifting to see how many different people this man has touched in his life, whether it be a small-town Nebraska native or the game’s greatest player.

We should all be so fortunate to live a Red-dish life.