I first saw Norm Van Lier playing basketball in 1999. He had been retired from the NBA for about twenty years by then, but Daniel was a colicky baby. I spent most of my nights rocking him and watching old games on the Classic Sports Network. That fall they aired the playoff runs from the seventies. There were the Bulls with Chicago written in cursive across their uniforms that I remembered from my childhood.
I have to admit I got into the 1975 series. The Bulls had a solid team that year. They beat the Kings and took on the Golden State Warriors in the second round. The Bulls battled all the way to game seven and they kept it close through much of the game, but ultimately came up short. That was as close as the Bulls would get to the championship until the Jordan era, when Bob Love’s number would be hanging from the rafters, Jerry Sloan would be coaching the Jazz and Norm Van Lier would be analyzing his old team on television.
That was how I was most familiar with him. He was on before and after every Bulls game. He’d offer his advice on the team as a whole and single out specific players if he felt they deserved it. He was frank and honest, but always constructive in his criticism. I don’t know his specific connection with the players, but there must have been something there. Even when he’d take on a personality like Dennis Rodman in the late nineties, you rarely saw Rodman screw up two nights in a row.
Norm Van Lier was found dead in his apartment last week. He was 61.