Quick, who was the best player in the 2003 NBA draft? LeBron (first overall pick)? Carmelo (third)? Bosh (fourth)? Wade (fifth)? No, it was Kirk Hinrich (7th overall pick)!!! At least he’s the best in our hearts. Coming in close second was Darko…
(With all the great players in this draft… how did Detroit draft Darko at number 2? This draft was stacked!!!)
In a way, Kirk Hinrich is the reason I love basketball. In 1998, after Jordan’s retirement, I was merely a 10 year old child. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Jordan era, I can’t honestly say I remember all that much of it. When he was gone and all the Chicago Bulls basketball buzz left with it, professional basketball was hardly a part of my life.
Sure, I remember failing to score big in free agency in 2000. I remember Elton Brand a little. I remember Curry and Chandler and Jamal Crawford and the “Baby Bulls.” Then there was the promise of Jay Williams, whose career was cut way short by a career destroying motorcycle accident.
Hell, I even remember JALEN Rose’s short stint with the Bulls, specifically a 50 point game he somehow managed to put up.
But it wasn’t until Kirk Hinrich was drafted in 2003 that I fell in love with the game.
Something was different about Kirk. It was his attitude. There was no hype surrounding him. He was gritty. He played defense. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He wanted to win. He was a Chicago type of player.
Sure, the 2003-2004 Bulls were second worst in the league with only 23 wins. (I also remember seeing the most boring game of all time, live. It was the Bulls versus the Heat. I was there with co-blogger David Aguilar. WOW. So boring!) Regardless, Hinrich was a guy the fans could rally around.
With tenacious new coach and defensive guru Scott Skiles, Hinrich somehow became a piece to build around. He was the heart and soul of the team. This was about culture… and Hinrich changed it.
The next season, with the addition of the 4 rookies Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, and Chris Duhon, things were starting to look up… that is… until the Bulls started the season 0-9.
But then miraculously, they started winning, a lot, and reached .500 at 22-22. They finished the year 47-35. From that season on, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the passion, the grit, the toughness. Kirk Hinrich for life.
I requested a Kirk Hinrich jersey for Christmas. (Unlike the basketball I requested every year and never got, a cousin did get me this.) It is still one of my favorite things to wear.
After one horrendous season where the Bulls only won 30 something games, Skiles resigned, and the Bulls failed to make the playoffs, they somehow won the draft lottery and Derrick Rose (1.8% chance). Hinrich moved from starting point guard to mentor. In the best playoff series of all time, he got into a fight with that thug Rajon Rondo.
Rondo was scared out of his mind.
Of course, all good things come to an end, and the Bulls traded Hinrich to the Wizards to free up cap space for the 2010 free agency of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. They got Carlos Boozer.
Despite this, with new coach Thibs, the Bulls won a league best 62 games. The next year, the Bulls won a league high 50 games in the lockout shortened season. But then, disaster happened… Derrick Rose tore his ACL. The Bulls then lost to a bad 76ers team in the first round.
Chicago was hurting. It still is hurting. With Rose about to miss most of the season, there are calls to dismantle the team and rebuild. Are the Bulls even worth watching without Rose? As fans, we’ve come to expect so much… mediocrity is going to be such a disappointment.
The Bulls needed something… no… someone… to bring excitement back to Chicago.
The lost season? Maybe not.
Today, Kirk Hinrich verbally committed to the Bulls. Two years at 3 million per year.
He’s back! And I’ll be watching.