With the Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals games largely shifting to network coverage, the broadcasting work from Tom Dore and Johnny “Red” Kerr for the 1996 playoffs is mostly over.
But what a treat it has been hearing that duo work together again during NBC Sports Chicago’s re-airing of the 1996 playoff run. Covering the games meant you didn’t get to hear the humorous interplay between the two, or Dore’s economical play-by-play work, or Kerr’s heart-on-his-sleeve bemoaning of missed boxouts or official’s calls.
Not that those of us around that team didn’t hear such moments off the air. It was fun to catch up with Dore on a recent Bulls Talk podcast. And I’d call getting to know Kerr one of the highlights of my two decades-plus around the franchise.
Red was there when John Havlicek stole the ball. And he was there when Michael Jordan held the pose.
Yes, Kerr was a walking, talking basketball encyclopedia who bled Bulls red. A storyteller supreme.
Beyond basketball, Kerr graciously sat for a tear-stained interview about his 46 years of marriage to Betsy after she passed away in October 2000. He did so because he wanted to share their love story, because her support allowed him to pursue his passions and because of her Bulls fandom.
At the time, Kerr shared how he hand-picked the three songs played at his wife’s funeral. This sparked a discussion about our shared passion for music.
From that day on, Kerr used to burn me CDs of artists he liked or he thought I’d like or I had told him about. In fact, having a 68-year-old Kerr thank me for introducing him to Uncle Tupelo is a career moment that may be hard to top.
Kerr became the first coach in sports history to lead an expansion team to the playoffs when he guided the 1966-67 Bulls. His knowledge of the game burned through every broadcast. His humor played out in lines like this one as the Bulls eliminated the Knicks to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Magic:
“The Bulls are trying to send the Knicks to play golf tomorrow. The Bulls might play golf, too.”
A bust of Kerr stands in the atrium of the United Center, a fitting tribute to a wonderful player, coach and broadcaster. And above all, a gem of a man.
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.