Let's talk 70's era Bulls teams. I was born in the 80's so it's all just stories for me from my dad and grandpa. I know you have often mentioned the toughness and grit of guys like Jerry Sloan and Red Kerr, which was legendary, but I was a bit surprised to hear you talk about how talented those teams were as well and how they could have possibly won a title or two had things gone a little differently. Could you tell us more about those 70s era Bulls teams and guys like Artis Gilmore and Bob Love.
OK, kids pull up a chair. Grandpappy Sam has a story to tell you.
Once upon a time, the Bulls assembled perhaps the greatest defensive team in NBA history. Until maybe the champion Bulls of the 1990s. For most of the early 1970s, the Bulls just about every year made up 30 percent of the NBA all-defensive team with Norm Van Lier, Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. In a league with 17 teams and 12 players per team. So more than 200 players not including various callups from the high level Eastern League and players coming back from the ABA. Yet the Bulls dominated the list of best defensive players. They weren't the most athletic players, and the backcourt wasn't celebrated like the famed Gail Goodrich and Jerry West or Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. But the backcourt of Sloan and Van Lier was the most feared in the NBA. West and Frazier would routinely complain to the league about how rough and unfairly they were treated and admitted Chicago was the only place they hated to play. As great as the champion Bulls were, because of the elegant Jordan they weren't the blue collar team the community most likes to claim. There was no elegance with Sloan and Van Lier. They were stockyards tough, Pullman rigorous, steelworks rugged. They came at opponents with a relentless ferocity that produced the best five-year run in franchise history that missed the ultimate destination because the Bulls were in the Western Conference—then the power, like lately—having to beat Kareem's Bucks or Wilt's Lakers. They gave those teams some of their best series between 1970 and 1974, losing in seven to the Lakers in 1971, to the Lakers again in 1972 when center Tom Boerwinkle was injured for the playoffs, in seven again to the Lakers in 1973 and then to the Bucks in 1974 when Sloan was injured in the previous series win over the Pistons. Sloan had been an expansion draft selection in 1966 when the Bulls coached by Johnny Kerr went on to become the only expansion team ever to make the playoffs. They collapsed the next season and Kerr was fired.
Bulls marketing/do everything Jerry Colangelo took over the new Phoenix franchise and brought Kerr to Phoenix. Where he would have been coach of the decade if the Suns instead of the Bucks won the then coin flip for top draft pick Abdul-Jabbar. But the Bulls began making moves. They acquired former minor league player Love from the Bucks. And in the big move before the 1969-70 season, acquired Chet Walker from the former champion 76ers. Though Love also became a high scorer, Walker became the closer as a version of Elgin Baylor with his twitches and fakes. The Bulls drafted Van Lier about the same time, traded him to Cincinnati in pursuit of a big man (Walt Wesley), but then reacquired him. Their best chance turns out to be in 1975 with Wilt gone and Kareem hurt. Leading 3-2 in the conference finals at home. But the Bulls blew a Game 6 lead and lost to Rick Barry's eventual champion Warriors in Game 7 and the team came apart the following season with retirements and injuries. There was a brief return, the famed 20-4 season close for the Miracle on Madison Street with Artis Gilmore from the ABA dispersal draft in 1976-77. They lost the deciding playoff game in overtime to the eventual champion Trailblazers and Bill Walton. There was one more breath until the Jordan run when Jerry Sloan became coach in 1979 and put together an underrated tough group with Ricky Sobers, Bobby Wilkerson and Gilmore with Reggie Theus for some flair. They lost to the eventual champion Celtics in the 1981 second round. Financial issues crippled the team with Wilkerson leaving as a free agent, rookie holdouts and Sloan frustrated by the inscrutable Larry Kenon. Sloan was fired 50 games into the 81-82 season with GM Rod Thorn becoming interim coach. Thorn then cleverly kept the team bad enough for another two years in order to draft Jordan.