The Chicago Tribune featured bylines from nine different reporters off Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals.
This didn’t account for photographers shooting the game, an on-site editor and other reporters working on feature angles for off days during the series.
Yeah, the Bulls were a pretty big deal.
As “sidebar" writers, those charged to flesh out angles not gobbled up by the main game story and lead columnists, Teddy Greenstein — who is still firing on all cylinders there — and I used to joke about the density of our coverage.
“I’ll write about Randy Brown’s first half,” our typical joke would go, “and you write about his second half.” Or: “I’ve got 400 words on Jud Buechler’s second quarter,” we’d say.
But truth be told, beyond both of us being thrilled for the opportunity, the Bulls provided plenty of angles to explore. And on this night — sorry, Teddy — I got the better assignment.
While his sidebar focused on Luc Longley’s offensive production in the face of consistent foul trouble, I got to write about Toni Kukoc, who arguably stole the show in his first NBA Finals appearance. Not that Kukoc wasn’t used to big stages from his days as a standout overseas.
What made Kukoc’s 18 points in Game 1 stand out so prominently were three things: He scored 10 straight points early in the fourth to break open a taut contest. He sat mired in a miserable shooting slump through the first three playoff series, averaging 9.3 points on 36 percent shooting that included an unsightly 3-for-36 from 3-point range. And his reserve role proved prominent on a night bench brothers Steve Kerr, Buechler and Brown combined to shoot 0-for-10.
“The atmosphere is pretty much the same, except for the [number of] media. That you can’t compare,” Kukoc said of his first Finals appearance. “But the NBA is the best. This is the ultimate.”
Kukoc spoke while sitting on a dais with Scottie Pippen in a dual postgame news conference. When Kukoc fielded a question on whether his first 3-pointer finding bottom lifted a burden that would cause him to start demanding the ball, Pippen interjected.
“He always says that,” Pippen joked.
Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.