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A Bulls all-timer
Kirk Hinrich's blue collar game won't make headlines, but his Bulls career will rank among the best ever in franchise history
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By Sam Smith | 11.24.2015 | 9:25 a.m.
“Hey, all time,” Aaron Brooks was chiding Kirk Hinrich the other day in the visiting locker room after the Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns as Hinrich had 14 points and a pair of three pointers.
“All time,” repeated Brooks, laughing, as Hinrich dressed. “All time.”
Hinrich shook his head with a smirk on his face, but seemed even to wince a bit. “Now I have to deal with that, too,” he muttered, though adding a smile.
Hinrich is not someone who much likes the attention directed his way. And Tuesday when the Bulls close the Western Conference portion of this road trip in Portland, that attention again will shift as Hinrich likely will return to the bench with Derrick Rose expected to return to the starting lineup after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
“Just doing what’s asked and buying in,” said Hinrich. “It is huge and goes a lot farther than people realize.”
All the way to all time Bulls franchise status.
That was Brooks’ reference, that Hinrich is the franchise’s all time leader in three point shooting, in attempts and makes.
But it’s well beyond that as Hinrich in his 13th NBA season and 11th with the Bulls has quietly become one of the legendary figures in Bulls history. And this while in the Bulls 8-4 start, Hinrich is shooting better than he ever has in his NBA career and off to his best start in the last several years.
Hinrich trails only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Bulls franchise history in seasons and games played. He is fourth in franchise history in minutes played behind Jordan, Pippen and Jerry Sloan, third all time in franchise assists and steals behind only Jordan and Pippen and eighth overall in points scored with five of the players ahead of him in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Hinrich isn’t being enshrined in Springfield, but his Bulls career will rank among the best ever in franchise history. It should merit consideration to eventually have his jersey number retired if not only for his statistical accomplishments, but for the blue collar, working class way he’s gone about his job that is both a tribute and a testament to his city and team.
Hinrich doesn’t excite the crowd or the highlight room denizens. But he gets the attention of the stars of the game with his relentless, physical, combative style that often frustrated the likes of Miami star Dwyane Wade into some of the toughest games of his career. Wade even once even needed the defense of Pat Riley about Hinrich’s tenacious style of play. It was no surprise, even approaching 35 in January, that Hinrich ran Stephen Curry into one of the least productive games of the season in the Warriors’ tense victory over the Bulls last week.
“Fans should appreciate everything he does because he is all about winning,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg about Hinrich “You can’t have enough of those guys on your team. He has the ultimate respect of his teammates because of how hard he plays and how he does those little things.”
Hinrich isn’t always a universal fan favorite given his hourly wage style. There aren’t spectacular plays; no behind the back passes on a crossover or daring scoops or floaters into the lane. Coaches always praise the way he “organizes” the team. No one much understands what they are talking about.
And Hinrich isn’t much for clarification.
He’s never unpleasant to media; he just isn’t exactly gregarious. It reflects his head down, eyes forward style as a player that his teammates appreciate even if it doesn’t earn many cover stories. It’s the approach of a kid nurtured on teamwork first without the accolades, even if Hinrich did earn plenty in high school and college.
The rugged kid from Sioux City, Iowa was a high school co-Mr. Basketball along with future teammate Nick Collison and led his basketball team to an 82-9 record as a three-sport star as also a quarterback and baseball pitcher. At the U. of Kansas, he helped his team to consecutive Final Fours and the championship game against Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse as a senior and was Midwest Region Most Outstanding Player. His No. 10 jersey was retired in 2009.
Hinrich’s father, Jim, coached him through high school and Kirk learned the lesson as well from another Midwesterner, Harry Truman, that it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
It’s one reason why Hinrich can be a tough interview for some media. It’s not for him about personality or likes and dislikes; it’s about the team. It’s not golf or tennis. It matters what everyone does; not who gets to finish the play with a basket.
So he plays point guard or shooting guard; he’s not quite a natural at either. In fact, he played shooting guard his last two seasons at Kansas even after he was eighth in the nation in assists as a sophomore. But that was best for the team. He always takes on the difficult defensive assignment, though not as frequently anymore in his 13th season. But as his play against Curry showed, he still doesn’t back off.
Moving to shooting guard his final two seasons at Kansas was said to hurt his draft position since he was considered small at 6-3 for an NBA shooting guard and he was expected to fall into the teens in the 2003 draft. But the Bulls went for him at No. 7 after Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident. And Hinrich helped birth a new, competitive basketball era for the franchise after the depths of 1999 through 2003.
“When you come in you are so wet behind the ears you have no idea,” said Hinrich. “It’s such a huge adjustment from college to the NBA. The first two, three months of my rookie year I wasn’t really ready (in addition to a viral infection that weakened him). Everything was strange to me. I was having trouble finding my way; you have to find a way to persevere.
“I wasn’t like a guy who was going to come in and be great right away,” said Hinrich, who did earn his way onto the USA Basketball team for the 2006 World Championships in Japan and become an all-defensive team player. “I had some skill set and played hard, but somehow found a way to figure it out.
“Just being on teams where we were just trying to get the respect back,” said Hinrich. “We were just trying to get the respect around the league, win games, prove ourselves as players.”
Those baby Bulls making the playoffs for the first time in seven years in Hinrich’s second season began that process. The Bulls now have made the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons for one of the most consistent runs in the NBA with the third longest current streak behind the Spurs and Hawks. And now going on 13 years later, Hinrich is among the team’s veterans just a few months younger than Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy.
“He’s has an unbelievable career. Besides him decommitting from Iowa State, I’m a big admirer of everything he has accomplished,” Hoiberg said with a laugh. “Even back in the days when he was playing at Kansas following a fellow Iowan was fun. I think he came (to the Bulls) the year I left. I would have loved to have played with Kirk. He’s the ultimate team guy. He does all the little things, all the things that don’t show up in the stat book; he’s just a flat out winner.
“The biggest thing is the way he organizes you, gets you into an offense,” said Hoiberg. “We scored 31 in the first quarter against Phoenix. A lot of that was because of Kirk’s pace. He’s going to get your defense organized as well because he talks and communicates out there on the floor. He’s a great example for the young guys because of how he works, how he approaches it; he’s a true professional. Played a lot of minutes in this league, 13 years and still going out and producing like he has.”
It has been an encouraging start to the season for Hinrich, who is in his final contract season with the Bulls. He hasn’t decided if he will play after this season, but he hasn’t ruled it out, either. He’s playing like he has plenty left.
Hinrich with two starts in his five games played after being out with a toe injury is averaging nine points in 17 minutes per game. He’s shooting 59.3 percent overall and has made six of eight three pointers. And his defense remains relentless. His taciturn look belies a fiery competitiveness that has seen teammates more often holding him back. His battles with Wade have been memorable, so frustrating the Miami Heat players in the 2006 playoffs that James Posey ran 30 feet across court just to deliver a cross body blow on Hinrich. Even Riley the following year before the playoffs when the Bulls swept the defending champions would point to Hinrich for playing Wade too physically. Riley would later back off and compare Hinrich to Jerry Sloan and Michael Cooper.
Hinrich starting the last two games averaged 15.5 points and shot 12 of 18 and five of six on threes.
“Just being solid (with Rose out),” Hinrich said. “Play hard, try to do the best I could. I feel good (about shooting). Honestly, when I feel fresh I feel good about my shot. I’m feeling fresh right now. Just trying to keep up my conditioning, keep my health good and hopefully I can continue to contribute. I just try to stay ready. I feel like I’ve got fresh legs. I’m in a good place mentally. Just trying to go in, not conserve my energy, play all out and do what I can to help.”
It’s been a basketball life for Hinrich, who endured the disappointment of being traded from the Bulls in the summer of 2010 when the Bulls made their big free agency pitch to acquire LeBron James and Wade. The Bulls had to literally give Hinrich to the Washington Wizards along with a first round draft pick to create more salary cap space.
Hinrich played a half season with an erratic Wizards team after the Gilbert Arenas gun incident. He was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who lost in the conference semifinals to the Bulls. Hinrich was injured and didn’t play. He had shoulder surgery to start the next season in Atlanta and had his poorest season averaging 6.6 points.
Then the Bulls point guard again suffered a catastrophic injury and the Bulls called again on Hinrich for help. With Rose out for the season, Hinrich re-signed with the Bulls in 2012. And in his fourth season back, Hinrich is enjoying yet another revival. Like staying in front of your man, Hinrich just faces up whatever comes in his direction.
“The moves I’ve look at as learning experiences,” said Hinrich. “I feel I’ve taken things from every situation I’ve been in. In Washington, we weren’t good. But I learned a lot playing for Flip (Saunders) and his staff; it was great for me. Atlanta, too. You become a product of all that. You can always keep learning and figuring things out. Every situation is different with different ways to do things.
“I felt confident I could make a living in this league,” said Hinrich in perhaps as bold a comment as he’s made in his 13 years in the NBA. “I’ve tried to base everything on winning. Obviously haven’t had a championship. But that’s part of it. I’ve had good mentors. Scott (Skiles) was great for me. Scott with young players took pride in teaching you the NBA game and being honest with you. I look back on that (fondly). I feel when I am healthy and fresh I can help us in a lot of ways. It’s not just one thing; doing little things, really.”
You keep punching the time clock on the assembly line. You don’t necessarily get noticed; but you know you’ve contributed to a good product. It’s a warm feeling. Yes, Kirk, the most productive three-point shooter the Bulls franchise has known with all the superstars and championships.
“Amazing,” Hinrich concedes with a bit of discomfort as the query implies individual performance. “Amazing to me because I grew up a big Bulls fan. To be drafted here and play most of my career here is such a blessing.”
Though the greatest blessings are at home where Hinrich is something of the patriarch of the team with four children, including one-year old twins.
Yes, he is all time.