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“Stormin’ Norman” Van Lier Passes Away

February 27, 2009

Jerry’s former Bulls backcourt mate, Norm Van Lier, passed away today.

“Norm Van Lier was one of the all-time greats ever to put on a Chicago Bulls uniform,” team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Along with Jerry Sloan, he set a standard for Bulls defense and toughness which we will never forget and which we will always strive to replicate.”…

Part of the NBA’s All-Defensive first or second teams eight times, Van Lier and longtime teammate Sloan, now the coach of the Utah Jazz, formed one of the top defensive guard tandems in NBA history…

Van Lier the analyst remained a huge Bulls fan, albeit at times a critical one who would call out players he did not think were playing hard or smart.

“Jerry and Norm were basketball players, but you looked at them with their scars and bandages, and you wondered whether this was going to be a football or basketball game,” says Bucks forward Bob Dandridge. “They were playing a rugged, hard-nosed brand of basketball that wasn’t too common in the league at that time.”

Jerry and Norm’s paths (or perhaps I should say “fists”) crossed before they ever became teammates.

It was probably 1971 when Norm Van Lier was with the Cincinnati Royals. “We were playing an exhibition game against [Sloan’s] Bulls, I think on the campus of Illinois State,” Van Lier recalled the other day. “Jerry and I got to pushing and shoving each other and then fighting. . . . Well, play continued at the other end and Jerry and I kept going at it. The rest of the guys looked up and said, ‘Where the hell are Norm and Jerry?’ We had rolled right out of the gym into the halls of the arena. . . . I think we knocked over a popcorn machine.”

In the offseason, the Bulls went to Sloan to say they had an opportunity to trade for Van Lier (whom Chicago had drafted then traded in 1969), but wondered if Sloan, an original member of the Bulls, would acquiesce to playing with a man he had fought so doggedly. Sloan, as he’s recounted many times, told management any man who would fight him all the way out of the gym and into the halls during a preseason game was a man he wanted to play with. And the two became back-court mates for the rest of their careers, perhaps the toughest and best defensive back court in NBA history.

They’re still exceptionally close, more than 35 years later. Van Lier, in a phone conversation from Chicago, where he works as an analyst for Bulls games, said: “…I used to get to [Chicago Stadium] early, put my jersey on and go underneath the [stands] to take a pregame nap…Jerry would come and find me, wake me up and start screaming at me, ‘Get your butt ready to play!’ He’d pound me in my chest. ‘Norm! You ready to play? You ready to rock?’ He’s that way now…He’s ready and he wants you to be ready.”

Here’s a video, which the uploader doesn’t want embedded.

RIP Norm Van Lier.

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