It is a sad day for sports fans from Chicago, the Midwest, and everywhere. One of the most passionate sports participants and fans ever passed away today: former Bulls great and announcer Norm Van Lier. He was 61.
(Update: And sadly, while driving into work this morning, I heard that another legendary Chicago Bull, former coach and announcer Johnnie “Red” Kerr, passed away yesterday too.Â Red Kerr, who had battled prostate cancer, was 76.)
According to ChicagoBreakingNews.com, the Chicago Fire Department did a wellness check after Van Lier had not been heard from since not arriving for a scheduled appearance on the network’s postgame show following the Bulls-New Jersey Nets game Wednesday night. They discovered Van Lier’s body shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon and he was pronounced dead the scene. The cause of death was not released, pending a report by the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The passing of Norm Van Lier was brought to my attention by our friend The Zoner in his post R.I.P. Norm Van Lier, one of many posts to go up tonight in honor of Stormin’ Norman Van Lier, in deference to his life dedicated to the game of basketball and to his beloved Bulls.
I had the privilege of working with Norm a few times and he was the real deal. A nice guy with a zest for life. Can you think of anyone that was more passionate about or loved the Bulls more than Norm? Doubtful. R.I.P. Norm. You will be missed but not forgotten.
I could not have said it better myself.
My appreciation for Norm Van Lier began early in my childhood when I became a huge Bulls fan because of some spectacular kid that wore #23. Like so many other sports fans, I was infatuated with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I watched them anytime they were on TV, and at that time in Bloomington we got the Chicago radio station on which Norm Van Lier had an afternoon show and broadcast Bulls games. I used to love listening to him and I always grouped him in the upper-upper echelon of “homer” announcers (the best kind, of course) with Hawk Harrelson and Don Fischer (Indiana basketball). Norm was simply one of the best.
After MJ retired and the Bulls broke up I stopped following the team closely. Bloomington also stopped getting the Chicago radio stations except for certain times of the day. So I’m sad to say that most of this decade I have not had the pleasure of listening to Norm. But I always remembered how exciting he made Bulls games, and then his passion and how entertaining he was talking about them the next day.
I have no doubt that there will be a huge outpouring of love and respect of Norm Van Lier in the coming days, and it is certainly reserved.
- Born in East Liverpool, Ohio on April 1, 1947
- Played QB in high school and was recruited by many colleges to play football, but none wanted him to be a QB, his desired position. He also received offers to play professional baseball.
- Norm Van Lier attended Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania as a 6’1 guard whose forte was defense.
- He was selected in the 3rd round of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Bulls and then immediately traded to the Cincinnati Royals.
- He led the NBA in assists in 1971 while playing for the Royals, in probably his best overall season. Van Lier averaged 16.0 points, 10.1 assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game while playing 40.5 minutes per.
- After that season the Bulls reacquired Van Lier, where he played until 1978. He made the All-Star team in 1974, 1976, and 1977.
- Norm Van Lier was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team three times, the All-Defensive Second Team five times, and was named All-NBA Second Team in 1974.
- He played briefly with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1979 after being waived by the Bulls and retired with 8,770 points and 5,217 assists.
- Norm Van Lier held the record for the longest field goal in NBA history, an 84 foot shot, until Baron Davis broke the record with an 89 foot heave in 2001.
And here are some other links in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the passing of Norm Van Lier at age 61:
Remembering Norm Van Lier — (Chicago Tribune)
“Man oh man, me and Norm were just together Tuesday night. As usual, he was expressing his love for the team and the franchise. He said, ‘Butter, a lot of times I may sound critical on TV but it’s just because I love these guys so much and I want them to win.’ People might have taken that the wrong way. But he had passion like nobody else and just wanted to be loved.
“I tell you: Norm Van Lier never took a night off. He came to play every game. Norm and Jerry [Sloan] were the two best defensive guys ever to play in the NBA together. As a one-on-one defender, he was the best. One-on-one? He would eat you up.
~former Bulls great Bob Love, a friend and teammate of Norm Van Lier
Ex-Bulls Guard, broadcaster Norm Van Lier dies at 61 — (USA Today)
Former Bulls player, commentator Norm Van Lier dies — (SI.com)
Feel free to post other links in the comment section. As The Zoner said, rest in peace Norm. You were a true gift to the game of basketball and to Chicago sports.
Update: Almost immediately after posting this I found another great link over at the Tribune, written by Rick Morrissey:
Includes this passage:
He loved being old school. He enjoyed talking about the bands he liked, including the Rolling Stones and Chicago. He liked to talk about toughness too. A lot. He didn’t have any use for players who weren’t hustling. That attitude had nothing to do with his age, 61, and everything to do with what he thought was right and wrong. You stepped on the court, you played hard. That was a given. It didn’t matter if you played in his era or the current one. If you played with fire, he saw it.
If you didn’t, God help you.
Being an outsider allowed him to look at the Bulls with a more discerning eye than other former members of the organization did. He was blunt, and he cared. It could be a wonderful, devastating combination on the air.
If you want to get a sense of that, go to YouTube.com and search for Norm Van Lier. There are a few classic rants about players who lack heart. Heart â€” he knew all about that, inside and out.
Good-bye, Stormin’ Norman.
Thanks for the suggestion on the videos Rick. Here are a couple of classic Norm Van Lier rants about the Chicago Bulls and heart: