Bulls provided plenty of story angles to cover during 1996 NBA Finals

Bulls provided plenty of story angles to cover during 1996 NBA Finals

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.

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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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

The NBA is expected to have a plan to resume its season approved by owners at a vote on Thursday, June 4, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

The news comes on the heels of a call with the Board of Governors Friday that yielded nothing definitive. Four potential formats for relaunching the season and a target date of July 31 to resume play were reportedly floated.

But the above report from Wojnarowski marks the most marked progress towards the league formally agreeing on a return-to-play plan to date.

Predictably, the precise details of the plan are not yet known. In conjunction with Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne, Wojnarowski reported that the plan is expected to feature invitations for “20-to-22” teams.

That would mean no invite for the Bulls — perhaps a blessing in disguise (or dressed plainly). The Bulls are currently paused with the 24th-best record in the NBA at 22-43, and are 8.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference.

Still, the team opened the Advocate Center Friday morning with clearance from both Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago officials. Players in the area will be permitted to undergo NBA-sanctioned treatments at the facility, an opportunity which Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn have already taken advantage of. Voluntary, socially-distanced, individual workouts may begin Wednesday when Chicago is expected to enter Phase 3 of its reopening. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will be en route to the city soon.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. A resumption bid seems on the cusp of coming to fruition.

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How story of Michael Jordan secretly practicing with Warriors was unearthed

How story of Michael Jordan secretly practicing with Warriors was unearthed

Before Michael Jordan rejoined the Bulls, he was a Warrior for 48 hours. Figuratively, of course.

No, Jordan didn’t officially sign (or even consider the notion) with the Warriors during the MLB strike that punctuated his first retirement amid the 1994-95 NBA season. But he did secretly practice with the Dubs multiple times whilst retired — and, with rare purpose, dominated multiple All-Stars in midseason condition. 

That story was unearthed on NBC Sports’ “Sports Uncovered” podcast. Some of the people behind the production of the podcast, NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, Ryan McGuffey and Tony Gill, joined Jason Goff on the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast to discuss the behind-the-scenes machinations behind its creation.

McGuffey called the secret Jordan-Warriors practice runs the “golden uncovered nugget” of the podcast. And it came about rather serendipitously, in a chance interview with Tim Hardaway.

“The Tim Hardaway interview kind of fell in our lap. He was in our office one day and it was like, ‘Hey, do you want Tim Hardaway?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’” McGuffey said. “I mean, he was an All-Star. I don’t know if it’ll give us anything, I don’t know if it’ll lead to anything. 

“Sometimes the interviews you don’t plan for are the ones that become a stone that you turn over and you’re like ‘What is this?’ And Tim Hardaway made a comment, I asked about the Berto Center practices and whether or not he understood what was going on here in Chicago. And he said, ‘I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this.’ ... When a guy says that, you know you got something."

They did, indeed. From there, on recommendation from Hardaway, the crew got in touch with Rod Higgins, then an assistant coach with the Warriors, now the Atlanta Hawks' VP of basketball operations. As detailed in the podcast, it was through a connection with Higgins that Jordan was even allowed to participate in the practices in the first place.

McGuffey and company entered their sit-down with Higgins ready to pry, equipped with volumes of follow-up questions and previously-researched points. But Higgins was ready to share.

“We reached out, found Higgins with the Hawks and reached out to them and told them exactly why we wanted to do the interview. We said this is the story, here’s what’s been said and can you validate?" McGuffey said. "And he didn’t validate it, he didn’t double down, he tripled down and gave us more facts, more details.”

You can hear those details by listening to the Sports Uncovered podcast here, via the embedded player below or wherever you get your podcasts.

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