John Capps was there when it all began for the Bulls in 1966, ready as he would be for the next 52 years to clear the way for the running—or walking, or riding, actually back then—of the Bulls. It was Chicago police officer Capps, a Marine veteran, who got the assignment that fall day in 1966 to clear the way for the parade up Michigan Avenue for the new NBA franchise in Chicago, the Bulls.
But instead of all the floats, baton twirlers and bands, it was owner Dick Klein, coach Johnny Kerr, marketing director Jerry Colangelo, all wearing suits and cowboy hats, and a live bull in a cage in a two-vehicle procession.
Nevertheless, Capps signed on and since then, often wearing his ever-present Kangol hat while sitting behind the Bulls bench right through the end of last season, Capps has been the security anchor for the Bulls franchise.
Capps died Thursday in his home in Chicago. He was 88.
"John Capps was a longtime friend of the Bulls organization and a fixture outside the locker room for years," said Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations John Paxson for the team. "Great person and a man who would always tell you straight up what he thought. He was tough, a Marine and over the last few years he was struggling physically, but he would never let you know. Home games won't be the same without John Capps sitting outside our locker room."
It's where Capps resided before every game, a longtime ritual of players greeting Capps before entering the locker room. Capps would be on guard through game time and then accompany the coach to the court and sit behind the bench. After the game, he would accompany the coach to the media session and then wait outside the locker room to accompany the coach back to his car. It was one of the most reliable rituals around the team and basically never changed in more than a half century.
Capps' connection to the Bulls came through legendary Chicago boxing publicist Ben Bentley. Bentley hired Capps for security for several major boxing matches in Chicago, including Floyd Patterson's first round knockout loss in Comiskey Park to Sonny Liston in 1962 for the heavyweight championship. Bentley then became the Bulls public relations department in the inaugural 1966-67 season and arranged for the "parade."
The new guys in town were coming! A Bull run?
"We were trying to bring some attention to the birth of the Bulls," said Colangelo, who is now USA Basketball director and chairman of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Colangelo was in Chicago Friday for Kerr's posthumous honor by the U. of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame at a gala at the Field Museum.
"We were throwing out pamphlets trying to sell season tickets; I think we sold four," Colangelo recalled. "Capps was part of that scene when we started the Bulls. He was there front and center. He was part of the whole picture in terms of our presentation. We felt he was a part of the team like a coach, a player. Capps was one of the guys; always did a great job. It's the passing of an era."
Capps primarily did security for home games, but began traveling with the Bulls in the 1990s when the team became America's greatest sports show and Capps became the most familiar face behind the bench, though no one really knew his name. Better for security. Be seen and not known. Always on the job.
I asked Capps about a year ago about his highlight from those early days in the Amphitheater through those championship seasons, the man with a kind word and friendly face for hundreds of Bulls players.
"Winning that first one in L.A.," he said with a smile. "Being an average team for so long. It was great for those guys."
Those guys will miss a great one in John Capps.