Former Bulls center Granville Waiters gone at age 60

Waiters (Number 31) played a pair of seasons in Chicago during the mid-80s when the Bulls were on the rise.
by Sam Smith
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They were the teammates who started it all for the Bulls' championship dynasty, and some who stayed to celebrate like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and John Paxson.

And many who didn't like Brad Sellers, Charles Oakley, Dave Corzine, Sam Vincent, Mike Brown, Steve Colter and Granville Waiters.

They lost one this week when Waiters, 60, died Tuesday in Columbus, where he played for Ohio State. No cause was given. Waiters was more a trivia question answer for those 1980s Bulls who were rising with Michael Jordan. But he also embodied the sacrifice and commitment of those Bulls teams that thrived because of Jordan. And, as Jordan liked to say, his supporting cast.

"I loved Granville," said Doug Collins, who coached Waiters in Collins' first season as Bulls coach in 1986. "It was always the joke that he looked like he was in the league 12 years because he looked so much older being bald, an awesome guy who worked really hard."

Collins said it was coaching players like Waiters with those Bulls teams of the mid and late 1980s, the teams that began the Bulls rise to excellence, that helped develop his coaching philosophy that has led to Collins being named a Basketball Hall of Fame finalist as one of the most successful turnaround coaches in NBA history.

Doug Collins

Doug Collins coaches Waiters during his two seasons with the Bulls

"It's something I believed in and helped teach me the value of a bench," said Collins.

"I had on the wall:
‘Believe in your role;
‘Stay in your role;
‘Star in your role.'

"To be able to go to your bench, not for weakness but for strength," said Collins. "Granville helped me do that. I had Dave Corzine, who was the better center. But Dave couldn't play that many minutes. I wanted to keep Dave's minutes down, so I started Granville. I said ‘Granville, you'll start the game and play the first seven, eight minutes, the first seven, eight minutes of the third quarter. Push yourself through this period of time because Dave will be our guy in the fourth quarter.'

"He never complained," said Collins. ‘He played his heart out. He was an awesome guy, a gentle giant off the court, one of the guys who helped me get started as a coach. You always remember those guys."

Waiters started 26 games in that 1986-87 season when the Bulls improved from 30 wins to 40 wins and averaged about two points. He never had a double figure scoring game for the Bulls. But Waiters enabled others to do so with hard screens, rebounds and almost a block a game. He then played part of the next season for the Bulls when they went from 40 wins to 50 wins. Waiters was let go that season and finished his playing career in Spain. He averaged 2.4 points in five NBA seasons.

"Really sad to hear," said Bulls senior advisor John Paxson, who was on those teams with Waiters. "We were in the same high school class. I actually played against his Columbus team and we beat them. But he had the last laugh when he won the state championship beating Clark Kellogg's Cleveland St. Joseph's team in the finals (despite 51 points from Kellogg). A good shot blocker, rebounder and teammate who knew his role. So sad to hear he is gone."

Though Waiters curiously had even a tangential and perhaps convoluted role in Jordan and Scottie Pippen becoming Bulls.

The 6-11 Waiters with his long, loping strides was an Ohio prep state champion who was Ohio State team captain in 1983. He was a second round draft pick by the Portland Trailblazers that season. The Pacers purchased his rights on draft night because they had lost Tom Owens, the center they acquired from the Trailblazers a few years before for the rights to Indiana's No. 1 draft pick in 1984. It became the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft. Portland ended up using it for center Sam Bowie. The Bulls then selected Jordan No. 3 in the 1984 draft.

Granville Waiters

Granville Waiters, shown here as a member of the Indiana Pacers, shoots while Boston players Larry Bird and Robert Parish look on.

The Bulls acquired Waiters from the Houston Rockets during training camp in 1986 amidst issues with center Juwan Oldham, who asked to be traded. The Bulls settled on adding Waiters when talks broke down in a potential trade of Oldham and draft picks for Warriors disgruntled center Joe Barry Carroll. Oldham then was traded to the Knicks for a draft pick the Bulls were able to eventually turn into the draft pick they used to select Pippen in 1987.

Waiters had a financial consulting business in and was prominent in the Columbus community in a mentoring program for former inmates and a child care program.

"This is a stunner," said Brad Sellers, who was a Bulls teammate after following Waiters at Ohio State. "Granville was a guy who got maximum effort out of his ability. He was a guy who was a defender, but first of all he was a great teammate. You could count on him to follow the rules, not draw outside the lines, stay within the framework of what we are doing. With Doug looking to solidify the rotation, he played a prominent role for us.

"But more than that he taught young players like me what it was to be a professional," said Sellers, who has been mayor of Warrensville, Ohio for the last decade. "How to be appreciative of your moment. He was a great guy to have in the locker room. We were young players, some very impressionable young players. You needed a guy like Granville to counteract some of that stuff. Granville was like, ‘Listen here, work hard, do your part.' He always acted older than he was, carried himself like that. Just a good guy to be around and have as a teammate.

"Guys were hit hard. Teammates loved him" said Sellers. "I talked to Gene Banks today, Trent Tucker, Darrell Walker, Ron Harper, Kevin Edwards, Jim Jackson, Oak, Pete Myers; everybody was checking in."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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