Chicago lost a major icon today with the passing of Chicago Bull icon, Norm Van Lier today, and as a result, old-time Chicago basketball fans have taken a major hit.
The shocking part of his death is that he passed at the early age of 61. He not only has been one of the more popular television sports personalities of late with his off-beat bow-ties and dissenting opinions on Comcast’s Chicago sports shows, but also he has been one of the more accessible Chicago sports legends around town. He was often easily found at Pizano’s on State Street where he enjoyed his cigars, talked ’70s hoops, and would discuss any sports topic that emerged on one of the sharp HD screens.
In fact, personally, this blogga has hung-out with Norm over the past four months at least a dozen times and talked straight-up hoops, movies, his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Rush Street days, the personalities of the Irish, and ’70s Bulls days.
What a treat each conversation was, and I’m more than upset at myself when I look at his cell phone number on the back of a business card that was meant for me to call him and watch the Bulls at Pizano’s during a Bulls road game. I missed out…on a lot.
Norm Van Lier was Chicago, and he would talk openly about how the famed 1973 Bulls-Lakers series that should have been won by the Bulls and their famed line-up of Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker, and Bob “Butterbean” Love. What life was like on Rush Street in the ’70s when Bill Wirtz was running the Bulls and letting Norm run the town. He would then talk about how to guard Gail Goodrich, Calvin Murphy, Archie Clark, Mike Newlin, and Jo-Jo White, (You would be shocked who he said was soft and who was a beast to keep.) and in the same conversation teach you at the bar how to play real ‘Aliquippa’ defense by sticking a forearm in your chest and saying ‘You have to dictate the game!”
One of the better conversations that I had with Norm was about how proud he was about his daughter working in Hollywood and his wife who was ‘Irish, tough, and keeps me in line.’ I liked that one…The best advice is that he consistently told me that ‘You have to come to the game ready to bust someone’s ass.’
This is a tough loss Chicago…
The shame is that few people realize what a helluva an athlete Van Lier was. He not only dominated Pennsylvania high-school football, but also he was a unbelievable defender at a small size. (Seriously, check out Photo #5 for a testament to his athleticism.) He did mention he was upset that his number ‘2’ was never retired by the Bulls. The bigger shame is that we had to lose him to probably have his number raised to the rafters.
May the pride of Aliquippa, who self-proclaimed that was a better Quarterback than Joe Namath ride on. State Street and old-time basketball in Chicago may not be the same with his passing, but the memories that one of the coolest and smoothest players will always run forever.
#2 and Red Suede Shoes,