Bulls

How Michael Jordan, 1997-98 Bulls concealed identities at hotels on the road

How Michael Jordan, 1997-98 Bulls concealed identities at hotels on the road

“The Last Dance” has sent any and everyone in the gravitational pull of the Bulls’ dynasty on simultaneous strolls down memory lane.

That includes Rusty LaRue, a reserve guard on the 1997-98 team. LaRue played just 140 total minutes that season (none in the playoffs) and hasn’t gotten a mention in the docuseries, but he’s spent the past few weeks sharing relics from the era on social media:

 

 

One post in particular, though, piqued our curiosity. On May 2, LaRue tweeted out a page of an old itinerary packet from an undisclosed road trip during the Bulls’ 1997-98 season. Amusing because, while some Bulls (including LaRue) had no objection with their real names being printed next to their hotel room assignment, most on the team opted for aliases on the written record of their whereabouts — a marker of how widespread the team’s fame was at the time.

 

The immediate follow-up: Who was who? It’s actually a more crackable code than you might think — and thank you to LaRue, Toni Kukoc, Joe Kleine and Bill Wennington for that. 

Take a look at the Bulls’ 1997-98 roster and LaRue’s call sheet side-by-side. See if you notice anything:

Via Rusty LaRue and Basketball Reference

It’s in alphabetical order! Now, these two tables don’t perfectly line up. There are 15 players on the Bulls’ hotel room assignment sheet and 17 on the Basketball Reference roster, which makes for a few crucial inconsistencies. As an example, Kleine is the eighth player listed on the red page, but the ninth on the official roster. And there are four players between LaRue and Wennington on the left while there are five on the right.

For explanation, look no further than the Bulls’ transaction log from that season. During the 1997-98 season, the Bulls made three significant roster moves:

  1. Feb. 19, 1998: Traded Jason Caffey to the Golden State Warriors for David Vaughn and two second round picks

  2. March 2, 1998: Waived Vaughn

  3. March 2, 1998: Signed Dickey Simpkins

Caffey, Vaughn and Simpkins all appear on the Basketball Reference 1997-98 Bulls’ roster because all three spent time with the team at some point during the season, but no two of them were employed by the Bulls at the same time. If we assume the game in question happened at some point after the trade of Caffey, the two lists line up as such:

John Thompson - Keith Booth

Fred Sanford ------ Randy Brown

Greg Noll ----------- Jud Buechler 

Tyson Bedford ---- Scott Burrell

Peter Parker ------- Ron Harper

Oscar Miles -------- Michael Jordan

Austin Powers ---- Steve Kerr

Joe Kleine ---------- Joe Kleine

Toni Kukoc --------- Toni Kukoc

Rusty LaRue ------- Rusty LaRue

Stagger Lee -------- Luc Longley 

Johnnie Walker --- Scottie Pippen

Brook Mason ------ Dennis Rodman

Bumpy Johnson -- David Vaughn/Dickey Simpkins (depending on if the game was before or after March 2)

Bill Wennington --- Bill Wennington

And if you’re still not convinced, I submit these nuggets as further evidence:

  • John Thompson served as Georgetown’s head men’s basketball coach for 27 years from 1972-1999, and became the first African American head coach to win a major Division I championship in 1984. Keith Booth grew up in Baltimore, Md. in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and attended the University of Maryland for college. He would have been well-acquainted with Thompson’s successes and pioneership. 

  • Born and bred in San Diego, Jud Buechler’s lifelong love of surfing is widely known. In fact, Luc Longley sustained a pretty serious shoulder injury body-surfing with Buechler back in Nov. 1996. Greg Noll was a trail-blazer in the big wave surfing game.

  • Ron Harper’s son, Ron Harper Jr., who currently attends and plays basketball at Rutgers, listed Spiderman (Peter Parker) as his favorite superhero for his athlete biography page. As far as hard evidence goes, I’ll admit this is pretty flimsy. But it’s something!

  • Who else but Michael Jordan would list an Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductee (Oscar Miles) as their alias?

  • Joe Kleine is Joe Kleine.

  • Toni Kukoc is Toni Kukoc (and how perfect that Kukoc — certainly not not notorious in that moment in time — just could not be bothered with a road-trip alias. What the hell did he have to fear?).

  • Rusty LaRue is Rusty LaRue.

  • “I would sign in under aliases Bruce Doull, Norman Gunston, Stagger Lee, which you could get away with over there," Luc Longley once said. No, I cannot independently confirm this quote, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned working in sports media, it’s to believe everything you read on the internet. Blindly and all at once.

  • John Walker was a prominent civil rights attorney in Arkansas in the latter half of the 20th century. His career achievements include degrees from NYU (masters) and Yale (law), partnering at Arkansas’ first integrated law firm in 1965 and being elected a state house representative in 2010 before passing away in 2011. Scottie Pippen was born in Hamburg, Ark. in 1965. Johnnie Walker is also a famous whiskey brand, and "scotch" is pretty close to "Scott."

  • Bill Wennington is Bill Wennington.

The icing on the cake: The room assignment sheet LaRue tweeted lists Jordan's security staff as being rooms 1804 and 1810, with Pippen's detail in 1704. Oscar Miles was in room 1809. Johnnie Walker in 1709. Adds up.

All of the above doesn't represent iron-clad reasoning for every alias, to be sure, but it's certainly enough to validate the initial hypothesis. As for the rest, Fred Sanford and Austin Powers are both, of course, iconic pop culture figures; Tyson Bedford (could Burrell have meant Beckford? Or perhaps it’s an allusion to Mike Tyson’s Brooklyn roots?) doesn’t exist; Bumpy Johnson is an infamous New York mob boss, but has no apparent link to Simpkins or Vaughn; and, I’ll be candid, I’m not sure what to make of Rodman’s choice of Brook Mason, which turns up little to nothing on a cursory Google search.

It’s been a little over two months since the NBA suspended its season. It’s been a little over three days since the latest episodes of “The Last Dance” aired. It’s been a little over 20 years since the Bulls capped off the most iconic dynasty the sport of basketball has ever seen.

But this team will never stop providing us mysteries to unfurl. And we’re forever grateful for that.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

nba_logo.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

Laurence Holmes, David Haugh and Jay Cohen join Kap on a Memorial Day edition of SportsTalk Live.

0:00 - It looks like we’re getting closer to the return of team sports. The NBA is in talks to resume its season at Disney World, while the NHLPA approved a 24-team playoff format.

5:00 - MLB and the players continue to negotiate their restart plan.

13:00 - Sam Smith tells a San Francisco radio station the Michael Jordan lied in “The Last Dance” when he said he would have considered returning.

20:00 - The guys share their favorite non-title clinching moments in Chicago sports history.

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe:

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.

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

So you’re sitting around Sunday night, missing “The Last Dance.” We get it, we wish it was still on too.

To help us all get through this first week without it, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “Last Dance” stories so that we can remember the good times together.

Whether it’s your first time seeing some of these, or just a fun look back, we hope you enjoy.

Recounting the best quotes from “The Last Dance”

We’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Kobe Bryant, we’ve got Dennis Rodman-- and yes we’ve even got some Carmen Electra for you.

Michael Jordan jamming to different songs takes over Twitter

If there was one thing more fun than simply watching “The Last Dance,” it was talking with your friends and family about “The Last Dance.” Some of the after-show interviews with athletes, coaches and pundits added incredible insight. And sometimes a memelord would create something so fun that you couldn’t help but watch and laugh. This is one of those latter moments.

Rod Thorn: Michael Jordan didn’t ask for Isiah Thomas to be left off Dream Team

One of the biggest beefs in basketball has a light shined on it. But after all this time, there are still conflicting reports as to what happened back in 1992.

Did Utah pizza give Michael Jordan food poisoning and was it intentional?

The “flu game” is one of the most iconic performances in Michael Jordan’s career, but now we’ve learned it wasn’t the “flu game” at all! Certainly one of the most intriguing new wrinkles out of all the details we learned across the series.

Scottie Pippen on Jerry Krause: ‘The greatest general manager in the game’

The beef between Pippen and Krause was well documented, especially early in the series. But by the end even Pippen had to give it up for Krause.

Why Scott Burrell appreciated Michael Jordan's harsh leadership style

Arguably the most emotional moment we saw during Jordan’s interviews was when he described his leadership style with his teammates. It’s clear Jordan pushed the Bulls very hard, and it’s easy to see how it could rub some people the wrong way. But not Scott Burrell.

How Bulls helped Scottie Pippen earn millions more on way out of Chicago

After one early episode of “The Last Dance,” many people on social media were incredulous that Pippen’s long-term contract was never renegotiated considering his important contributions to the team. However our K.C. Johnson set the record straight for how the Bulls made things right with Pippen when he was on his way out of town.

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

To finish this post off, we’re going back to K.C. Johnson who tells us why the 1998 title would’ve been the last for the Bulls dynasty, no matter if Jordan, Jackson and co. returned, or not.

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.