Kendall Gill

How Bulls analyst Kendall Gill turned a college workout into a sanctuary

How Bulls analyst Kendall Gill turned a college workout into a sanctuary

When Kendall Gill began a 32-year-old training program to ready himself to play in a 50-and-over basketball league, he thought it was a nice connection to his Final Four past at the University of Illinois.

Little did the 15-year NBA veteran know he’d actually be starting a movement.

Gill, an analyst for NBC Sports Chicago on Bulls Pregame and Postgame Live shows, always has been a fitness fanatic. So dusting off the “60-40” drill that he and teammates like Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty, Kenny Battle and Stephen Bardo utilized the summer before their storybook run to the 1989 Final Four seemed a natural challenge.

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Then, COVID-19 paused his plans. But he kept training. And asking people to join him.

As the global pandemic’s hold on toppling normalcy strengthened, so did the resolve of Gill and his followers. In a time when outdoor, socially-distanced exercise has become seemingly even more important and mental health challenges abound, Gill has found yet another calling.

He’s part coach, part motivator, part friend, part family man with his two sons out there with him. Six mornings a week, the “60-40 club” has become a safe haven and gathering place for those who can handle its physical and mental challenges.

“This is a stressful time,” Gill said in a phone conversation. “People need an outlet.”

When Gill first started the routine up again in March, high-profile friends like former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former DePaul standout Malik Murray and former New York Knicks staffer Ian Mahoney joined him.

It calls for participants to sprint 60 yards, jog 40, touch the goal line on a football field, turn around and do it again. The first day, participants do this 20 times. Each day, you add one repetition until you complete the sprint-jog mixture 45 times. Then, you take one circuit away each day until you get back down to 20 reps.

It’s a 50-day process and takes about 45-50 minutes daily.

But even with the daunting challenges, Gill’s community grew. NBA officials and local residents Marc Davis and James Capers stopped by to prepare for their assignments at the league’s restart at Disney World. Hall-of-Famer and Chicago resident Tim Hardaway did too.

But so did every day people like 77-year-old John Cater, who became the 12th participant to complete the cycle last week.

“I realized right around the middle of May. That’s when I started getting a really strong following. And everyone showed up six days a week,” Gill said. “People hang out because it has become a community. We have music out there. People stay after and talk.”

For good measure, Gill added what he calls “combat conditioning” drills to the running workout because, well, of course he did.

“Get your drink of water and get your three minutes of rest,” Gill said. “Then you have to do your calisthenics.”

Those consist of 20 Hindu squats, 20 Hindu push-ups, 20 sit-ups, holding a back bridge for 20 seconds and holding a plank for 20 seconds. Each day, Gill adds one set, just like the sprints.

“By the time you’re done with the cycle, you’ll have done 1,645 push-ups, 1,645 squats, 1,645 sit-ups, back bridges and planks, and run 93 miles,” Gill said. “I’ve lost 29 pounds since March 11.”

Gill’s Twitter feed has become a testament to people’s perseverance. He presents a T-shirt to those who complete the cycle and offers words of inspiration and encouragement.

For his part, Gill typically arrives to a park in the Bronzeville neighborhood around 4 a.m. to get in his workout. Then he stays and serves as coach and motivator for the groups who trickle in until typically around 8 a.m.

“It’s challenging. It’s designed to make you quit. But it’s not so hard that you can’t do it,” Gill said. “I’m tough but I’m fair. I understand when people are hurting or need a day off. And I’ve learned you can’t treat everybody the same. So I’m learning too about what coaching and leading is like. It’s about managing personalities.”

James Anderson, the current dean of the College of Education at Illinois and then a professor who had ties to the basketball program, first introduced the “60-40” drill to Gill and his teammates in the summer of 1988. They had just come off a crushing NCAA Tournament loss to Villanova.

“We were all in right from the start. We wanted anything that would make us better,” Gill said of that summer of 1988. “In Champaign in the summertime, it is hot. And we were on Memorial Stadium turf field.

“That’s why we were able to kill people. We were in so much better shape than everybody else. If you do that on a football field for 50 days, a basketball court seems like nothing. You can run all day long.”

Gill doesn’t ask for that. He asks for commitment and camaraderie, two traits that can go a long way in an uncertain time.

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Top 10 Chicago-born basketball players to play in NBA

Top 10 Chicago-born basketball players to play in NBA

Anyone who is from Chicago knows that the city’s basketball tradition runs deeper than the Bulls.

From modern mavens Dwyane Wade and Anthony Davis, to old-school greats such as Isiah Thomas and Tim Hardaway, and beyond, Chicago pedigree dots the NBA historical landscape — and that’s without mentioning Derrick Rose, who, in only a brief run of dominance, earned the distinction of Bulls great in his hometown. 

Even those who don’t make it to the highest level or those that do and don’t achieve all-time great status remain revered in the city that raised them.

But for now, we’ll focus on those that excelled at the highest level. Here are the top 10 Chicago-born basketball players to play in the NBA:

Top 10 Chicago-born basketball players to play in NBA

NBC Sports Chicago will honor the Bulls great with “Derrick Rose Week presented by Saint Xavier University” starting up Monday, June 8 at 7:00 PM CT with the first of five-straight nights of “Classic” game performances. See full schedule here.

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Why Kendall Gill was ‘pissed’ when Michael Jordan first retired from basketball

Why Kendall Gill was ‘pissed’ when Michael Jordan first retired from basketball

For most, Michael Jordan’s press conference announcing his first retirement evoked shock, sadness and even a bit of awe. How could the consensus greatest, most impactful athlete ever to bounce a basketball hang it up at the peak of his powers? Where would the Bulls turn? Holy crap, is that Tom Brokaw?

Kendall Gill’s reaction, though, was one of anger.

“I can’t say it on a podcast, but [my reaction] was ‘God [expletive],’” Gill said on the latest Habershow podcast, hosted by Tom Haberstroh and featuring Will Perdue and K.C. Johnson.

Some context: On Sep. 1, 1993 (roughly a month before Jordan’s retirement announcement on Oct. 3), the Seattle SuperSonics executed a sign-and-trade for Gill, inking him to a seven-year, $26.6 million deal. At the time, the Associated Press quoted Gill saying, “I'm glad to have the opportunity to go to a contender… Seattle is a team that wins a lot of games, and their style of play matches a lot of what I like to do. I think this is a great opportunity for me."

Apparently, that belied his true feelings about the move.

“All due respect to the people of Seattle. Seattle’s a wonderful city, the organization was great, the players there were great. I just really did not want to go to Seattle,” Gill said on the Habershow podcast. “I really wanted to go back to Charlotte or go to another team back East.

“And when I signed that contract, it was only a couple weeks later that Michael retired. I was like, ‘Damn it,’ I could have just fit right into playing for the Bulls and playing with Will (Perdue) and playing in the Triangle offense, cause they needed a two-guard at the time. So I was pissed actually.”

Perdue agreed that Gill would have been a seamless fit on the Bulls at the time. 

“The one thing I’ve learned working with Kendall, he believed in the Triangle, and he would have fit right in. I mean, he would have been a Tex Winter protégé, him and Tex would have been watching film all the time, sitting together on the plane,” Perdue said. “We know what Kendall’s talent sets are so he would have fit in well.”

But at the time, Perdue’s mind was far from the trade machine. He said he was in “disbelief” hearing the news of Jordan's retirement made official — and seeing the dizzying media footprint at the presser— while following along on television. 

“They (teammates who were present) said it was a madhouse, that it was just out of control, and I just decided, you know what, it’s live on television, I’m gonna sit right here. And I think I already know what the outcome is even though I don’t really want to believe it,” Perdue said. “But I also didn’t want to have people see the dejection on my face when he made it official.”

As for Gill, he played out two years of that deal in Seattle before being flipped back to Charlotte in the summer of 1995. He eventually landed with the Bulls for the 2003-04 season, but by then, the dynasty was long past crumbled.

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