Reaction continues to pour in over the passing of Bulls legends Norm Van Lier and Johnny “Red” Kerr.
Doug Collins, former Bulls coach and long-time NBA TV analyst:
‘‘I had the good fortune when I coached in Chicago for three years to be around Johnny. He was always so positive and loved the Bulls.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. It’s just a tough time, with the passing of Norm Van Lier, also, who was one of the toughest competitors in the NBA in the backcourt with Jerry Sloan on those great Bulls teams. How fragile life is and we have to live every minute of it.’’
Jim Durham, ex-Bulls play-by-play man and veteran NBA radio network broadcaster:
‘‘Stormin’ Norman, then ‘Reds’’ – it won’t be the same coming into Chicago and not seeing them. Johnny was one of the greatest friends that I ever had.’’
Jerry Colangelo, past chief of the Phoenix Suns and long ago the first marketing director of the Bulls:
‘‘Johnny is one of those who is unforgettable. He always had a smile and never really let things get to h im. He was just one of the people.
“He was never presumptuous despite all that he accomplished as an athlete and as a player – he was always just down and simple Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr. When I think of my relationship with him – which goes back to the startup of the Bulls in 1966 – it was a wonderful time. We were young men at the time with energy and ambition who were looking forward to a great new challenge. It was just a terrific time in our lives. He had a big impact on me and my career and he’s a guy whom I’m going to miss because I thought a great deal of him as a person and as an incredible contributor to the game of basketball who I loved so much.’’
Bob Cousy, all-time Boston Celtics great:
‘‘I played golf with John Havlicek [Friday] morning and got the news. Johnny Kerr’s name has been bandied about so much in recent years because I am on the Veterans Committee of the [Basketball] Hall of Fame and he has been one of the two people we sent forward for consideration to the Hall last year.
“That’s all we’re allowed to send. He and Richie Guerin. Hopefully, he will still go through the process and be nominated but it is such a shame that he had to leave us at this point.
“John had such a positive impact on every phase of the game that he’s been involved with. He was a super citizen and when I t hink of John – the battles we had with him between the Celtics and Syracuse and later with the 76ers – I think of a guy who was a great competitor on court and great company off court. And then, through all these years, such a tremendous ambassador and contributor to professional basketball.’’
Nick Kladis, frequent Kerr business partner and all-time Loyola basketball All-America:
‘‘Johnny was such a tremendous, fun, kind guy to be around. He was always giving people advice, good advice, all sorts of people. He was not only a very friendly man, he was a very smart fellow.
“I can remember all the way back to when we were at Tilden Tech – I was a couple of years ahead – and he was 6-foot-8 or so and playing soccer instead of basketball. There was no way our coach [Bill Postl] was going to let that happen. So John finally takes up basketball and he winds up at Illinois while I’m at Loyola.
“George Ireland and I were scouting [Illinois] a night or two before we were going to play them and George says, ‘Nick, you’re going to have to take the big guy.’ So I take the big guy and he’s handling my hook pretty good and every time he scores over me I’m thinking, ‘Why didn’t we let him stay with soccer?’
He was particularly proud of the fact that he never missed a broadcast of a game Michael Jordan played and was very close to Michael’s father James. I know Jordan’s dad used to always ask Johnny his opinion of a lot of things that were going on around the team affecting his son. Then we had the restaurant together – Red Kerr’s – and even though it didn’t work out, it was a lot of fun. I loved the man.’’
Al Bianchi, a friend of Kerr’s for more than 50 years and his first assistant coach with the Bulls in 1966-67:
‘‘I am so thankful that we got one final chance to see Johnny at the beautiful tribute at the United Center a few weeks ago.
“He and I first met at the East-West All-Star game at Madison Square Garden in 1954 . He was No. 8 or No. 9 in the nation in scoring from Illinois and I was a few notches below from Bowling Green and we just hit it off from the start.
“He was the top draft pick of the Syracuse Nats and went up and started his career right away. I went in the Army for a couple of years, came out and got cut by the Lakers and wound up with Syracuse so we met again. I think we wound up rooming for most of the next ten years or so, all told.
“We both went to the original Bulls in the expansion draft and he was made head coach and I was his assistant. Later, when I wound up coaching the Virginia Squires in the ABA, he came in as business manager and we signed young Julius Erving. All through the years, we were like Ike and Mike. Our families were very close, our kids all knew each other.
“It was such a good ride. That night at the United Center, he wasn’t well and it wasn’t like we could sit and talk for an hour or so and catch up. But he came to life during the ceremony and there was just the briefest moment when our eyes met, just like all the other nights we played and coached and ran together, and no words needed to be spoken. We were telling each other – ‘I got you partner – now and forever.’ And that was it.’’
Pat Williams: Former Bulls GM:
“My, my, my, this sure is one sad week in Chicago basketball annals with the passing of Norm Van Lier and Johnny Red Kerr almost in the span of one day. I go back with Norm Van Lier and Johnny “Red” Kerr for 40 years. When I got to the Bulls in 1969, Red Kerr had just left to coach Phoenix. But he left his mark as the Bulls’ first coach. He helped launch the franchise, took their expansion team straight to the playoffs and was deservedly named NBA Coach of the Year.
“Later, of course, he returned to the Bulls in an executive role in the mid-seventies and then really established himself as a legend through his many years of broadcasting. So he wore a playing hat, a coaching hat, a front office hat and a broadcasting hat. He never played for the Bulls. But he was an outstanding NBA center for years. What a basketball life! What a basketball life!
“The Syracuse Nationals ran their plays through Red Kerr and he could deliver the ball to Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Lee Shaffer, Larry Costello, Len Chappell and Dave Gambee as good as anybody. As a great passing center, he’d rank right up there with Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Wes Unseld, Wilt Chamberlain and Tom Boerwinkle. So as you envision the past with Van Lier and (Jerry) in the Bulls backcourt diving and scratching and clawing an barking–there’s been been a pair like those two and there never will be another pair that gave of themselves every game the way they did.”
Chet Walker, former Bull star and seven-time All-Star:
“I first met Johnny “Red” Kerr when I came into the league as a rookie with the Syracuse Nationals in 1962. He was our starting center and I was assigned to be Johnny’s chauffeur and go-for. That was my initiation. In return, he helped me become the player I became by encouraging me to believe that I could be as good as I wanted to be. Really? The one thing he always told me to do more than anything else was to learn to move without the ball. And that helped me to beat out two veteran teammates to become a starter. From then on, he was always a great guy.
“Johnny, in my opinion, was probably the greatest passing center in the history of the game. I’m serious. Johnny Kerr would throw the ball through his legs and behind his back and always find the open man. We ran an earlier version of the triangle offense because we ran all our plays through him and he and Hal Greer led us into the playoffs, where we ended up losing to the Cincinnati Royals, who had Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry, Jack Twyman and Bob Boozer. So although I played just one year with him, that one year was like an academy because he taught me so much. And the only thing he and Al Bianchi required of me when I drove them around was to have six-pack of beer.”
Dick Vitale: basketball TV analyst and former NBA coach:
“In dedication to Johnny “Red” Kerr, the message I would give to every man is to undergo regular checkups for prostate cancer. I underwent surgery last year for prostate cancer myself and they have determined that it is now benign. So I’m very fortunate. But my heart and prayers go out to Johnny’s family, friends and working associates because his death is such a great loss. He was an important thread in the fabric of Chicago basketball. As a player, a coach, an announcer and a fan, Johnny was just a special, special guy with a great personality. He was as warm as could be and his contributions to the game have been immense.”
Vinny Del Negro, Bulls coach:
“They were just great representatives of the Bulls organization and the NBA.”
“Passion, integrity, class, the list goes on, but they dedicated themselves to their families and obviously the Bulls organization. They’ll be sorely missed, but people like that that have been around the organization that long always seem to have that aura around them. Their legacy will live on.”
Kirk Hinrich:, Bulls guard
“Obviously, with Johnny Red’s statue going up and that ceremony, I think everybody kind of realized how much he really meant to organization. Being here six years, it was great having Red around. He will definitely be missed. I know how everyone thinks of him.”
“It was also unfortunate about Norm. He was one of those guys who kind gave an identity to the Bulls with how hard he played, the type of player that Chicago grows to love. He’s definitely going to be missed by the organization and everyone that knew him.”
Contributing: Jim O’Donnell, Lacy J. Banks