Chicago Bulls mourn Kerr, Van Lier

February 27, 2009 2:22:26 PM PST
Tributes are pouring in for two Chicago Bulls icons whose deaths on the same day have shocked the Chicago sports community. The Chicago Bulls lost two greats on Thursday. Johnny "Red" Kerr, the first coach in franchise history, died of cancer at his home. Earlier, in the same day, Norm Van Lier was found dead in his home.

While the Bulls took the court in Washington, DC, practicing before Friday night's game against the Wizards, head coach Vinny del Negro talked about how the team is coping with the deaths of two franchise greats, the first-ever coach of the Bulls, Johnny "Red" Kerr, and former all-star player Norm Van Lier.

"We have a job to do, and I think the guys have good focus this morning, but you have to be professional, and that's what Red and Norm would want," said Del Negro.

"The last six years, it was great having Red around, and he'll definitely be missed," said Kirk Hinrich, Bulls guard.

Bulls fans were already reeling over the news that "Stormin' Norman" Van Lier was found dead in his home Thursday at the age of 61 when news broke hours later that Johhny "Red" Kerr died of prostate cancer at the age of 76.

"It's like something that I have lost. They meant so much being commentators, because they were true, and they spoke about sports, and they spoke the truth about sports, and we have lost great men," said Evelyn Isom, fan.

Kerr began his career with the Bulls as their first head coach in 1966. For the last three decades he was the team's color analyst.

Just two weeks ago, a frail, but happy Kerr was honored at the United Center for his dedication to the team, with Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan taking part in the tribute.

Both Kerr's and Van Lier's careers as team members and broadcasters were talked about Friday morning on ESPN Radio's Waddle and Silvy show. The hosts and listeners shared favorite memories of both men and discussed how their deaths, on the same day, have impacted the city.

"It's one of the saddest days in Chicago sports history," said Marc Silverman, ESPN Radio.

Friday afternoon, some of Kerr's friends raised a glass in his memory. For the last 20 years, every Friday, Kerr stopped by the Chef Shangri-La restaurant in North Riverside. Friday afternoon, a group of his closest friends gathered for a toast in his honor.