Stories from when Michael Jordan and the Bulls descended upon Beloit College

Stories from when Michael Jordan and the Bulls descended upon Beloit College

It’s not often that you watch an assistant basketball coach at a Division III school drive the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and burgeoning superstar into a small college football stadium in a convertible with the top down.

But that’s exactly what happened on Oct. 2, 1985.

John Erikson, my assistant coach at Beloit (Wis.) College, drove Jordan to Strong Stadium for him to perform the coin toss before the Beloit-Cornell football game.

Courtesy of K.C. Johnson

Jordan was big at the time — but not big with a capital “B.” He was entering his second season. The first model of Air Jordans had just come out in April.

And why was he in Beloit of all places? In a sign that shows how much the NBA has changed in 35 years, the Bulls and Jordan held training camp on our campus.

Yes, Jordan, Orlando Woolridge, Charles Oakley, Dave Corzine and the crew plied their daily trade on our fieldhouse floor, which was well known throughout the Midwest because it was raised and extremely springy. That, plus then-coach Stan Albeck’s friendship with our longtime coach Bill Knapton, is what brought the Bulls to Beloit.

This was roughly only a month before Jordan broke a bone in his foot and missed most of the 1985-86 season. This was Jerry Reinsdorf’s first season as primary owner and Jerry Krause’s first season as general manager. Bob Sakamoto covered the beat for the Chicago Tribune — exactly what I wanted to do and a big reason I enrolled at Beloit, which, in a rarity for a small, liberal arts school, offered a journalism minor.

The days were heavenly. As players on Beloit’s basketball team, we got to watch Bulls practices, occasionally serving as ball boys or getting water and towels for the NBA players. Then we’d practice ourselves on the same floor just hours later.

As “The Last Dance” continues to play out on ESPN, Jordan’s legendary competitiveness that borders on maniacal is being cemented as a theme.

Everybody knew this already. But to see it from Jordan as he cooperated with filmmakers in recent interviews is compelling nonetheless.

And it reminded me of one day in October 1985 when Jordan and Quintin Dailey shot free throws after practice. The shooting started good naturedly, with smiles and smack talk. Then, Dailey started winning.

And something changed.

Jordan — who had to have had money on it, right? — kept talking, but lost the smile. Winning was all that mattered in that moment.

When that seemingly inevitable outcome occurred, Jordan reacted with inordinate excitement. To this scrawny teenager at least, it looked like he was addicted to competition.

During my days at the Chicago Tribune, I covered Jordan’s “Flu Game,” the time he held “The Pose” to beat the Jazz in 1998 and countless other signature moments. That he seemed as intensely and intently focused on winning a simple free-throw shooting contest against a teammate way back in 1985 tells you all you need to know about his legendary drive.

Oh, and by the way: Hours after performing the coin toss at the Beloit football game, Jordan dropped 46 points as his Red team beat the White team in an intrasquad scrimmage.

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NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

When the NBA went dark on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulls got busy.

A front office overhaul that was first reported as a possibility during All-Star weekend in Chicago kicked into overdrive during the league’s hiatus with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager, the firing of Gar Forman and the re-assigning of John Paxson to an advisory role. 

It’s the dawn of a new era in Chicago. Energy is palpable throughout the fanbase. Bulls players have expressed enthusiasm for the direction of the franchise, as well.

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And around the league, competitors have taken note. Take it from NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, who stopped by the Bulls Talk Podcast recently to discuss the league’s impending restart, and the state of the Bulls.

“I think it’s a brighter future,” Haberstroh said on the team’s front office changes. “I don’t think any NBA team is happy about what [the Bulls] did, because it means that their lives are going to be a lot harder to win a championship. 

“The Bulls have been in a rough spot over the last several years, just trying to rebuild after the Tom Thibodeau era, and never really quite having an identity. And I think with the change, the identity change with Arturas Karnisovas, he’s shown that he is a people person, he’s a gym rat. He hired Marc Eversley who has a really strong reputation around the league.”


Indeed, the rebuild catalyzed by the Jimmy Butler trade (which yielded Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn) has yet to fully bloom. The Bulls are just 71-151 since the trade, and poised for a fourth consecutive top-10 draft selection after going just 22-43 in an abbreviated 2019-20 season and being left out of the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, Fla. — a season which began with self-imposed playoff expectations.

That has led to widespread speculation on the future of head coach Jim Boylen. Boylen owns a 39-84 record since taking over for Fred Hoiberg 24 games into the 2018-19 season. He signed a three-year extension in May 2019, and assembled his own staff — headlined by Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers — last offseason.

Haberstroh added that those aforementioned competitors are monitoring the Bulls’ coaching situation closely. For now, as NBC Sports Chicago has reported, Karnisovas is empowering Boylen as coach of the team and withholding final judgements until he is able to observe him in the Bulls’ building and establish a relationship with him. Boylen recently participated in a Juneteenth march alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls’ staff, and has been active checking in on players, both individually and on team Zoom calls.

“I think the big question that people around the league are wondering is ‘What is going to happen for Jim Boylen?’” Haberstroh continued. “And I think the head coaching position is going to be a canary in the coal mine for how this is going to be run going forward. 

“If Arturas or Marc believe that they need a new voice running the team and they are met with some reservations from either ownership or from elsewhere, do they have the autonomy to make that decision? Or is it going to be a situation where, ‘Hey, we don’t want to pay another head coach, we already have this deal with Jim Boylen, we don’t want to have to pay another coach to be in here.’ I think that’s going to be an indicator of how things are going to be running going forward. So it will be interesting to see. People around the league are very, very impressed (with the hires) that they’ve made. But I do think they want to see how much autonomy, in reality. They can say all they want now in press conferences, but we’ll see when push comes to shove whether they’re going to have full autonomy making decisions about not just the head coach but just everything in the organization.”

“All indications are that they’re going to have that full autonomy. But I think from around the league that is the big question mark, and they’re watching the head coaching position.”

Listen to the full conversation with Haberstroh here or via the embedded player above.

RELATED: The case for Coby White's All-Star potential 

Bulls Talk Podcast


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NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

Before the NBA officially restarts its season on July 30, all 22 of the invited teams will participate in three inter-squad scrimmages, as a means of final preparation.

The league released each squad's schedule for those scrimmages on Saturday. Scrimmages run from July 22 - 28 and are mostly interconference, presumably to avoid teams getting premature reads on potential early-round playoff opponents:

Not announced is whether or not the games will be televised, or a broadcast schedule.

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And one other matter of note: As Caitlin Cooper pointed out on Twitter, teams will intermingle between hotel locations for the three scrimmage games. Take the Lakers' scrimmage schedule, for example: They face the Mavericks, Magic and Wizards. While the Lakers will stay at Gran Destino Tower during their stay, the Mavericks and Magic will inhabit the Grand Floridian, and the Wizards the Yacht Club.

According to the league's 113-page health and safety guidelines for the bubble, players will be allowed to socialize with players at different hotels starting with "Phase 5," which begins July 22, but any meals shared with a player or staff member from another team must be eaten outside. Before that, players will only be allowed to socialize with teammates or others staying in the same hotel as them.

Teams are set to travel to Orlando on a staggered schedule from July 7 - 9; from there, regular COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring will go into effect. After a period of quarantine and producing two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart, players and staffers will be allowed to participate in group activities with their teams.