Millionaire Corner's Kent McDill, author of "If These Walls Could Talk," shares his stories about Michael Jordan's "supporting cast."
When sportswriter Kent McDill became the Chicago Bulls beat writer in 1988 for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald newspaper chain, the team could be described as “Michael Jordan and the Jordanaires,” he jokes. But a series of trades and acquisitions became the building blocks for the Chicago Bulls dynasty that achieved an unprecedented two three-peats in eight years. Millionaire Corner writer McDill takes readers behind the scenes of one of the modern era’s greatest sports dynasties in his new book, If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box of the Chicago Bulls Dynasty
The book contains a wealth of Michael Jordan stories, but also about coach Phil Jackson and Jordan’s “supporting cast,” including Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and others. In Part three of our interview, McDill reflects on the players who were integral to the Bulls’ success during the dynasty years.
Q: Over the course of the Bulls’ dynasty years, who might have been the team’s most unsung player?
KM: Toni Kukoc, from the second three-peat, came to the Bulls with all sorts of notoriety because (general manager) Jerry Krause indicated to us that he was a great basketball player. Because Kukoc was from Europe, we didn’t have a lot of chances to see him play, and because Jerry had made such a big deal out of him. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin froze him out and made it difficult for him to survive as a member of the team. Then it turned out that he was everything Jerry had promoted; a wonderful passer, very good shooter, one of these guys who just could do almost anything on the basketball court. He didn’t have the American bravado that so many athletes had. He was just there to play basketball. He didn’t look for a lot of acclaim. By the end, he was one of these guys who Michael and Scottie wanted to hate, but couldn’t because he was such a nice guy and he was beneficial to the team. He’s never going to be considered a Hall of Famer but he was a huge contributor to that second three-peat.
Q: You mentioned Jerry Krause, who was a polarizing figure. One quote that got a lot of press was, “Players and coaches alone don't win championships, organizations win championships." Would you say he was one of the Bulls’ most misunderstood figures?
KM: There is a chapter in the book about my relationship with Jerry which was no different than everybody else’s because he didn’t have a relationship with the media. But I commend him for that because what he decided was that there was no benefit to telling us anything. If he gave anybody (a scoop), it would come back to haunt him. He related to all of us in the media in the exact same way, which is to say he didn’t relate with us at all.
Q: Which player was the biggest surprise?
KM: That clearly is Dennis Rodman. He came to the team in the summer of 1995. Dennis was playing for the San Antonio Spurs, but he was infamous for his years with the Detroit Pistons. Bulls fans hated him for those years he played with them. It just seemed like he was so much show; very talented, wonderful rebounder, but it just seemed like he had a lot of baggage. When he was traded to the Bulls, I was very upset because I didn’t want to have to deal with him on a daily basis. Then I got to know him and I’m telling you the greatest surprise of my life is Dennis. He is engaging and conversational and self-effacing. I would never have guessed that in a situation when I walk into a locker room and there are four or five players sitting at their lockers, I would head toward Dennis because he was just so much fun to talk to. Then, he would go out of the locker room and the lights would hit him and there would be thousands of people watching and he would turn back into (his alter-ego) “The Worm.” I hated that guy. But the guy in the locker room was far more pleasant than I could have imagined.
Q: As a parent, my favorite story in the book is not about a Bulls player, but about the team mascot, Benny the Bull.
KM: My oldest child, Haley, was two years old and loved Benny the Bull. He is a big, loveable mascot. Through channels I asked if I could pay to have Benny come to her second birthday party, and they were kind enough to let him appear. At a key moment in the party, Benny emerged. My daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw him; she was just so excited. But we lived in a small house and he is very large, and when he took one step toward her, she started to cry like you wouldn’t believe. She was scared out of her mind. Benny worked really hard. He danced around and would come up as close as he could to her. He finally won her over to the point that she hugged him and gave him a couple of kisses on the snout. But for a brief moment, I thought we had ruined my daughter’s second birthday party.
Q: In putting this book together and reflecting on your time covering the Jordan era of the Bulls, what most comes to mind?
KM: There is a Chinese proverb which states “the quality of one’s life can be judged by the quality of the stories you have to tell”. Under that guideline, for 11 years, I led a high-quality life. Professionally, I could not have asked for a more exciting and challenging position. From a personal standpoint, I had a chance to shine on a high-profile platform. I got to travel the country and in one case, the world, and proved I could handle an assignment of national importance, even though it was sports-related. I consider myself very lucky to have been given the opportunity to travel with the Bulls for those 11 years.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.