10 Bulls with a Hall of Fame case
On Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend, Sam Smith looks at 10 Bulls who have an argument for future enshrinement
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.
By Sam Smith | 9.11.2015 | 5:10 p.m.
The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Friday night conducts its enshrinement for its Class of 2015. It is led by four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo. Kentucky coach John Calipari also will be honored. The others are NBA official Dick Bavetta, NBA players JoJo White and Spencer Haywood, the latter who also played in the ABA. Louis Dampier will be enshrined from the ABA. Others will include Tom Heinsohn as a coach, the fourth to be enshrined as player and coach, Lisa Leslie from the WNBA, international coach Lindsay Gaze, the late veteran from the Rens John Isaacs and former coach George Raveling.
So who’s next?
The next few years with veteran NBA stars coming close to retirement should produce highlight Hall of Fame classes. Among those certain to be inducted are Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash and Ray Allen with the likes to Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki soon to follow. Then there are others for whom one can make a case, like DePaul’s Mark Aguirre, a former college player of the year who won two championships with the Detroit Pistons and had a career scoring average of 20 points per game, once averaging as much as 29.5 in an NBA season. And there will be cases made for players like Vince Carter, who has scored well over 20,000 points. And though they don’t sound like Hall of Famers, what of players like Tom Chambers, who scored more than 20,000 points?
It’s always a personal and engaging debate.
But what of players, coaches and executives from the Bulls? Who should be among those considered for the Hall of Fame? Here’s a look at some worthy candidates:
The epochal Bulls broadcaster and first ever head coach is a long overlooked and deserving enshrinee for the breath of his basketball career. In many respects, Kerr represents the diversification and collection of excellence that defines Hall of Fame contributor status. Because the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is not the NBA Hall of Fame. It celebrates all basketball everywhere. Kerr’s array of achievements should be a model for the contributor category, which is one of three main categories along with player and coach. Kerr has received the Bunn award, which Rod Thorn received at the Thursday night dinner. It represents the Hall’s highest achievement short of enshrinement. Consider Kerr’s career: He led Tilden High School to a city championship and the U. of Illinois to the Final Four. As an NBA rookie starter with the Syracuse Nationals, he became an NBA champion. He was a three-time All-Star center despite playing most of his career in the same conference with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He became the NBA’s original iron man with a consecutive games streak of 844 straight games, which was every game of his career until into his final NBA season. And even then he sat when his coach, Paul Seymour, decided the streak had become a distraction and benched him for one game. As coach of the Bulls first team in 1966-67, he led the only expansion team ever to the playoffs and was named coach of the year. After four seasons coaching, two with the expansion Phoenix Suns, he went to the ABA and the Virginia Squires, where as business manager he was the first to sign George Gervin and Julius Erving. He went on to become one of the NBA’s iconic broadcasters through six Bulls championships and one of the greatest NBA ambassadors. He died Feb. 26, 2009, just hours after the death of fellow Bulls legend Norm Van Lier.
Kukoc is known to Bulls fans as the Sixth Man winner in 1996 with the 72-win greatest team ever and a sixth man and starter for the three-time Bulls champions from 1996-1998. But worldwide in basketball, Kukoc is regarded as one of the greatest ever and one of the pioneers that led to the globalization of the NBA. His Split team won the Euroleague three times and he was named MVP twice. Then he went to play in Italy and his team won the championship and he again was Euroleague MVP. He won multiple Euroleague player of the year awards and is regarded as the most accomplished Euroleague player ever. His teams won the FIBA junior world title, a World Championship and two Olympic silver medals. Kukoc was a clutch shot maker for those Bulls teams, generally the choice for coach Phil Jackson to take the big shot other than Michael Jordan. He played 13 seasons in the NBA and averaged 12.1 points despite being primarily a sixth man. Kukoc recently was hired as special advisor to the Bulls team president.
If overcoming adversity in life also was a consideration, Love would be a strong candidate. He turned a severe stuttering issue that even kept him from getting regular meaningful employment after his basketball career into a position with the Bulls as a motivational speaker. Love was a three-time NBA All-Star and one of the top two-way players in the game in his era as a two-time all-defensive team player. Love excelled in a magical seven-year run with the Bulls in which he averaged at least 21 points per game for six consecutive seasons and more than 25 per game in consecutive seasons when the Bulls early 1970s teams were among the best in the NBA. Love missed just four games over a five-year stretch. Among players with more than three seasons with the Bulls, he is the second highest scorer to Michael Jordan at 21.3 per game. Love played 10 seasons in the NBA with a 17.6 average.
Well, there’s not a lot of MVPs not in the Hall of Fame. Actually, none who are eligible. And there are going to be a lot of former MVPs getting in, like Shaq, Iverson, Duncan, Garnett, Nash, Kobe, LeBron, Dirk and probably Durant and Stephen Curry. Rose was clearly on the way to Springfield the way he started his NBA career with not only the MVP, but All-Star starts and playoff scoring records as a rookie. We obviously know about his succession of knee injuries, but he appears healthy again. And even if he doesn’t play like he did his first few years in the NBA, he can return to All-Star level as Hall of Famer Bernard King did and have a productive next five or six years, which would certainly land him in the Hall of Fame.
The Bulls managing partner is the senior owner in the NBA and the only owner with a dynasty team (six or more titles) not in the Hall of Fame. The most recent team owner to be inducted was the Pistons’ Bill Davidson, whose teams won two titles. Reinsdorf also presided over one of the first major privately financed new arenas in the NBA as well as his teams starting the coaching careers of Hall of Famer Phil Jackson as well as top coaches like Doug Collins and Tom Thibodeau.
The former Bulls general manager hired by Reinsdorf put together the six championship teams of the 1990s after the drafting of Michael Jordan. Krause drafted the core players Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in the 1987 draft and then traded for Bill Cartwright with his previous draft pick, Charles Oakley. Krause also made the moves to put the second threepeat in place with the trades for Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman, drafting of Kukoc in the second round with a future pick and signing of veteran free agents like Steve Kerr.
The Bulls general manager who drafted Michael Jordan received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement award from the Hall of Fame at a dinner Thursday. Thorn deserves Hall of Fame enshrinement for perhaps the most varied career in NBA history as a player for eight years, coach in the NBA and ABA, general manager or team president with the Bulls, Nets and 76ers and league basketball operations director for more than 15 years in two tenures.
He is in the Hall of Fame as a coach for his career primarily with the Utah Jazz. But as a player for the expansion Bulls and the subsequent decade, Sloan became the face of the Bulls franchise with his relentless physical play. He was a six-time all-defensive team player and two-time All-Star while leading the Bulls’ early 70’s surge to become one of the league’s top teams. He still ranks third in franchise history in games and seasons played and minutes and is the runaway franchise leader in games fouling out. He averaged in double figures every season with the Bulls until being forced to retire with injuries.
The former Bulls coach has the credentials to be in the Hall of Fame as a contributor. Collins won almost 500 games as an NBA coach with four teams, all of which improved dramatically after he took over. Collins was a four-time All-Star player with the Philadelphia 76ers before injuries cut short his playing career. He was an Olympian in 1972 when his free throws should have won the famously disputed game. He then was a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Collins also has been a longtime TV broadcaster for the NBA and worldwide ambassador doing clinics.
The architect of the Bulls Doberman Defense that helped the Bulls win three titles between 1991 and 1993. Bach has one of the deepest and most varied careers in basketball. He played for the Boston Celtics in 1948 and was a player in the Eastern League when it was essentially a second pro league as the NBA had just 10 teams. He became one of the youngest collegiate head coaches when he took over Fordham at age 28 after decorated combat in the South Pacific in World War II. He won almost 400 games with Fordham and Penn State before becoming head coach of the Golden State Warriors while also an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team. He was an assistant with the Bulls, Hornets, Pistons and Wizards.