Bill Wennington

The Chicago Bulls won three NBA championships in a row from 1995-1997. Key players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were some of the key players on those teams coached by Phil Jackson. Bill Wennington played center for the Chicago Bulls during all three of those championship teams. He has a written a book titled Bill Wennington’s Tales From The Bulls Hardwood a book about the Chicago Bulls team and lifestyle while being part of the team.

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Chris Yandek: First off how are you?

Bill Wennington: “Chris I am doing very well. Just came from the Chicago Bulls tip off luncheon. The players, coaches, and general managers were there excited about their prospects for this season.”

CY: As a former player of the Chicago Bulls, why did you decide to write Bill Wennington’s Tales From The Bulls Hardwood?

BW: “I was approached by a couple of people and they asked if I would be interested. Sports Publishing got involved and they ran the idea down. I just started reminiscing and telling stories back and forth. Kent McDill was a beat writer for the Chicago Bulls when I was on the championship teams. We talked about Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, and also the things we did to entertain ourselves. We played practical jokes on each other, what it was like to be on the team bus, different hotels, and it was a great time to reminisce. We got some stories together and it’s a pretty nice book.”

CY: Have any of your other Chicago Bulls team members given you any feedback on the book?

BW: “Not yet. The book has just come out this month. I am sure they will be getting their copies shortly. The book isn’t gonna put anybody in bad light. There is a lot of controversy with Phil Jackson’s latest book out. It’s a book I wrote with my son knowing he would read it. He is 13 years old. I think the whole family can read this whole book and agree with it.”

CY: In the introduction of the book you talk about how you joined the Chicago Bulls team and the first time you saw Michael Jordan he winked at you and two days later he announced his first retirement from the Chicago Bulls. What was that feeling like to go to a team and the best player retires in 1993?

BW: “Steve Kerr and I were together both going to Chicago. I knew playing with Michael would be phenomenal and skies the limits. A couple of days later in training camp Steve Kerr and myself looked at each other and said were not gonna be as good as we thought we were going to be. Scottie Pippen took on a great load and made the team fun. We actually had a good team that won 55 games, but unfortunately got beat out by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals in a seven game series.”

CY: You talk about how you went to the movies on a holiday and how it was better to go as a team without Michael Jordan so you wouldn’t draw a crowd. Tell me about that.

BW: “The Chicago Bulls usually go out west for the first big road trip in mid November after Thanksgiving. We all decided to go out to a movie and it was Austin Powers. The team went and we met up with Michael half way. We went to a show around 5:00pm when everyone would be still eating. We had the theater to ourselves which was very nice. We came out and for the 7:30pm showing there were 200 to 300 there to watch the Austin Powers movie. They all followed Michael Jordan home as we went back to the hotel. Michael had two or three bodyguards with him and there were eight of us trying to keep the people off Michael. They didn’t care who we were because Michael is the airness. They just wanted to be with Michael and get his autograph, but he wasn’t signing. It was really a surreal incident to see.”

CY: You say as shocking as it might be Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan had a lot in common as they would do anything to win a basketball game. What else do you think they had in common?

BW: “That would pretty much be it. They both worked for what they wanted. They both had tremendous drive to get what they wanted. When you’re talking about basketball and taking care of their body they both went about that. Off the courts they were absolutely opposites. Michael likes to relax while Dennis is really out there and likes to show off wanting the attention and the crowd. Around him he is more of a distraction and he thrives off of that. Michael would want to be out but not so recognizable.”

CY: You say Phil Jackson was the greatest coach you ever had because of genius. What personally do you think of Phil Jackson not just as a coach, but as a person in general?

BW: “He is a caring person. He does care about you. He wants you to be successful. My first interview I had to do for a sports channel in Chicago was with him and he made me feel so comfortable. He really does care about you as a person and does want you to succeed. He is truly a good person and an awesome coach. He was responsible for getting us 15 Chicago Bulls players to work for a common goal.”

CY: You talk about stories of playing cards with Michael Jordan and other players on the airplanes. Tell me about those stories and what is the most important thing you learned form Michael Jordan?

BW: “Michael doesn’t like to lose at anything. And we liked to play cards to pass the time. And everything’s a competition. When you’re an athlete, you compete. And Michael had a drive in him more so than anyone else. So, you’re playing cards and when Michael had retired, I had, not that I’d taken his spot, but we’d formed a group to play a card game called tonk and we would play. And then when Michael came back, he joined in the game. Well the first time he was playing with us, I ended up being the big winner. And I think I had won maybe $120. Not a big pot, but it was a significant amount, enough to say that I was the definite winner and Michael did not win that day. Well, he wouldn’t let me play.

He just kind of took control of the table and wouldn’t let me play anymore. Then one day Ron Harper or one of the other players couldn’t make it or wasn’t on the trip. And he called me back, ‘Come on Bill. You can come play with us today.’ He made it a point that I would lose. And I ended up losing almost exactly what I’d won the first time I played. He said, ‘Good. We’re even. You can’t play anymore. Get lost.’ And so he wouldn’t let me play anymore because he just doesn’t like losing to anyone at anything. So, he really strives and takes it personally he when loses.”

CY: When you won the final of the three NBA Championships in a row over the Utah Jazz in 1997, what were you feeling about your future since you knew the team was going to break up and a lot was going to change?

BW: “It was sweet because Phil Jackson made it a point that this was the last dance. He said to enjoy it because it always just doesn’t happen. We really took time that year to look and observe what was around us. When it ended it was really bad because we did know it wasn’t going to happen again. We knew that Phil Jackson was going to leave and Michael Jordan wouldn’t be back. We knew management was going to be forced to move the team around, to move guys out, and try to rebuild the team quickly. The core of us had played together for four years and we knew we were going to be broken up. It was very ecstatic to win the championship, but it wasn’t quite the same cause we knew it was probably the last time we were altogether in the same room for a long time.”

CY: What do you remember most from the 1995-1996 72-10 Chicago Bulls team and how dominant that team was setting an amazing winning team record?

BW: “There were obviously so many things that happened that year. Nobody at the beginning of the year would have imagined that to win a championship and have the best record in the NBA. When we set the goals I don’t think winning 70 games was on anybody’s mind. When we got to the NBA All Star Break we thought that it could happen. Another memory is that Jason Cathy who is a rookie, comes over to me a ten year veteran before the NBA All Star Break, and said to me, ‘Billy is it all like this? I never thought the NBA would be like this.’ I said to Jason that it’s never like this. Enjoy it because it’s unbelievable. Take it to heart because it’s never like this. He just thought this was the way the NBA was because that’s all you hear about. When you are in college or before that you hear how great it is that it’s wonderful that you’re in the league, you travel, but that season we only lost 10 games. losing just wasn’t part of the equation. There is no negativity on the team because everyone is happy because you are winning.”

CY: Today you have a big involvement in the Chicago Bulls organization. Tell me about that.

BW: “I am broadcasting with Neil Funk on ESPN radio on the Chicago Bulls network that broadcasts all the games. We do travel with the team for all the home games and road games. I was working earlier with the Chicago Bulls as a mentor for the younger players as part of the younger player development program. Being part of the Chicago Bulls is a great thing. Tradition here in Chicago is a great city that is still fun to be involved with.”

CY: What do you think is in store for this years Chicago Bulls team and can they make the playoffs?

BW: “I can’t say no they won’t make the playoffs, but it’s highly doubtful. They have a young team that they didn’t have last year. They understand they have to create things by teamwork. Last year we had a couple of guys who didn’t get the team concept. The guys this year have gone through such a grueling training camp and have responded so well. We have guys now that are staying after practice working on their games. That’s the big difference because we have guys who really love the game this year. These guys truly envision themselves as being part of a better team and making things happen for the better.”

CY: As far as role models and young kids and the positives or negatives, do you think kids should look up to an athlete like Lebron James that skipped college for the NBA?

BW: “Well, I always thing you have to find things within yourself. I think athletes can be positive role models. I think you’re solely relying on the athlete as a role model in a young person’s life you’re going to be in trouble. Bad things have happened and we are all going to make mistakes. People all make poor judgment at times. I think if you’re solely looking at someone in the lime light there is going to be someone that’s gonna bring that person down. You are going to feel rejected when that person is taken off the pedestal. I think we as athletes can be such good role models. I do believe in what Charles Barkley says that we are not put here to be role models. If we can live them in a positive way I think that makes us better. People should be careful who they choose as role models. If they choose someone like Lebron James that is 18, 19, or 20 years old there are things that person has not yet experienced. They may not be the most mature or developed person. I do believe there is a place for athletes and entertainers to be role models.”

CY: As an NBA player give me your opinion on Kobe Bryant’s past personal situation and what kind of bad image it gives to NBA players overall?

BW: “I think it’s always bad when a situation like that arises. There are hundreds of those that go on throughout the country every year. It’s a shame that things like this happen. Kobe Bryant because he is a well known name has his case brought up. As play was going on Kobe wasn’t there because he was flying back and forth. We don’t hear about the hundreds of other cases similar to Kobe Bryant’s. I think it’s a shame that things like that happen. Somehow we can shed a light on things and prevent these things from happening. Unfortunately for Kobe and basketball it is a negative eye for the NBA and public eye.”

CY: Finally, what do you think is in store for your future?

BW: “I love basketball. Many people wonder if I would ever consider coaching one day, but right now I am here in Chicago working with the Chicago Bulls.”

You can purchase Bill Wennington’s Tales From The Bulls Hardwood and check out many other sports books at http://www.sportspublishingllc.com.