Chicago Bulls

Bulls' Ring of Honor night carries celebratory feel

Inaugural class honored on red carpet and at United Center gala, where memories flowed

chicago bulls championship 1996
Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel/ALLSPORT
The Bulls' inaugural Ring of Honor class featured several members from the 1990s dynasty.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

From Bob Love declaring “it’s good to be back home” to Steve Kerr cracking wise about the passage of time, Thursday night at the United Center proved yet again the special and unbreakable bond of a basketball team and this city.

“It goes by quickly. I remember when I was playing with the Bulls and some of the older guys would be paraded out on the floor and we’d go, ‘Look at those old guys.’ Now I’m an old guy,” Kerr said in his typically self-deprecating manner. “That’s how life goes. But it’s always so fun to be back.”

Kerr has returned to the United Center many times in his role as coach of the Golden State Warriors. Love has too in his previous role as a team ambassador for the Chicago Bulls.

This time, they both arrived----with many others---for the kickoff festivities to the Bulls’ inaugural Ring of Honor class. A red carpet entrance preceded a private gala and dinner on the floor of the United Center, where highlight films played and broadcasters Chuck Swirsky, Neil Funk, Stacey King and Adam Amin---with a healthy assist from Kerr---introduced the inaugural members and eloquently spoke of their impact.

From the goals of original owner Dick Klein and first-year coach and later longtime broadcaster Johnny “Red” Kerr to the impact of Love and teammates Jerry Sloan and Chet Walker to the power of Artis Gilmore to the vision of general manager Jerry Krause and the dynasty that produced so many of the inaugural class---Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Tex Winter---the night had a celebratory feel.

Even if the absences of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman left a hole.

“Obviously, it would be better if everybody were here,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. “But we knew going in not everybody could be here.”

Jordan taped a video message during which he thanked the Reinsdorfs and the fans, congratulated his teammates and expressed how “bummed” he was to miss. Rodman was expected to attend, and the hope was weather would cooperate enough for him to arrive in time for Friday’s halftime ceremony honoring the class in public.

“I would be excited for everyone to come, but we announced it six weeks ago. People have schedule issues,” Bulls president and CEO Michael Reinsdorf said. “This is just our way of saying thank you to the players and the staff, and it’s something that we’re really proud of.

“Having all the guys come back, seeing guys like Ron Harper, Luc Longley, and Toni (Kukoc) here. It’s a big part of our history. We won six championships in eight years, and these players, the staff members that are here, Phil Jackson coming back, it means so much to the Chicago Bulls. But it also means so much to our fans. We’re really excited.”

Jackson sat at the head table directly in front of the stage, soaking up the final tribute of the evening to the 1995-96 team that was inducted in full. That team obviously won a then-NBA-record 72 games and the team’s fourth championship, which Michael Reinsdorf, Randy Brown, Jud Buechler and Bill Wennington recounted in great and humorous detail.

“We’re talking about one of the best if not the best team ever,” Kukoc said. “During the season, you don’t start with the idea to win 70 games. But as time went by and we were winning games, we saw it was possible.

“We did it but the goal was winning a championship.”

That was always the goal, which is what produced bonds that last a lifetime.

“When you share that moment with the champagne in the locker room and go through all that goes into winning a championship, you have a bond for life,” Buechler said. “It all comes right back when you see the guys.

“It’s pretty amazing. That was such a special time in all of our lives, but especially mine. Those four years I spent here, three world titles and two beautiful daughters. Coming back to Chicago is always special and it’s just nice to get the guys back together. Some of these guys I haven’t seen in 25 years.”

Longley hadn’t returned to Chicago in 10 years and, before that, another 10-year absence had transpired.

“We all look a bit different, but it’s all fantastic,” Longley said.

The Bulls’ dynasty produced a global brand, which Longley still feels living in Australia and boating to New Guinea for fishing and paddleboarding.

“I take an enormous pride out of it,” he said. “What’s great about this event is reconnecting with that team and that identity and the organization. I’ll be even more proud going forward.”

And looking back, Longley, like everyone who attended Thursday night, had memories.

“I remember getting on the United Center floor and it’s roaring but you can’t hear a thing. You’re just in that zone on the court and focused,” he said. “You can hear Phil’s whistle and Scottie’s voice, but you don’t hear much else. That’s a very strong memory for me.”

Kerr was flattered the Bulls scheduled the festivities to coincide with his Warriors’ lone trip to Chicago.

“It’s really amazing,” he said. “I would’ve hated to miss this. I’m thrilled that it happened.”

Kerr owns a unique perspective having played in and now coached a dynasty.

“Really strong ownership is key to any professional sports team and success and obviously you have to have not just a star player but a superstar player and human being. Michael Jordan was the guy for the Bulls and Steph Curry for the Warriors,” Kerr said. “You have to be lucky enough to have someone like those two to be the front man and the best player and the leader. I’ve been lucky to be part of two different teams with players like that.”

Dynasties do take some luck. But they also take an enormous amount of skill and commitment and togetherness.

And while the members of the inaugural Ring of Honor class from outside the dynasty didn’t win championships in Chicago, they helped establish the foundation of the franchise.

“It brings back a lot of memories, obviously. It was a great run,” Jerry Reinsdorf said of the dynasty. “Everyone of these guys that are here played a significant role in this franchise and it’s good to see people you haven’t seen for a long time. I just wish Jerry Krause was alive and he could be here.”

Members of Krause’s family attended, as did members of Sloan’s and Kerr’s and Klein’s family. The United Center atrium filled with laughter and reminiscing, the connection to this franchise and to this city renewed.

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