On April 1, 1947, Norman Van Lier was born in East Liverpool, Ohio – and we are all better people because of it. While Norm spent the majority of his life involved in basketball, he spent all of it being full of personality. Whether playing the game or analyzing it, he was a dynamic character who refused to be ignored. Hell, you did not even have to know squat about basketball to be amused by this one of a kind character.
It is unfortunate that I was not around to see him play, but the stories of Norm’s hustle, swagger, and defense echo every time his playing career is mentioned. A story I heard years ago on the radio from one of his former Bulls teammates, is just one such example that typified the swag the man had. During a heated contest in the regular season, a timeout was called. Instead of joining his own team, Norm walked down to the other bench, stood outside the opposing team’s huddle and stared them down the entire length of the timeout. And apparently, it was not the only time he pulled such a move. Norm was always ready for a battle. Once criticizing former Bull Thabo Sefolosha for being intimidated by then coach Scott Skiles, Norm remarked, “I would rather fight Scott Skiles before I let a coach intimidate me about playing ball.” And that is how I will always remember and love Stormin’ Norman.
My fondest memories of the man come driving home from part-time jobs in college. When putting on a post-game show that Norm was a part of, there was little mistaking the outcome of the game just by his tone. And listening to him hilariously rip on the Bulls defense surely lightened any anger you had from the loss. No one was safe from his onslaught. If a player did not show maximum effort in a loss, it did not matter what the name was on the back of his jersey, Norm would rip it. Chicago was the perfect town for the crass style of Van Lier. The city’s blue collar attitude welcomed the words of a man who could not fathom the concept of “sugar coating” anything.
I was lucky enough to meet Norm once. I was working as a valet for an event where Norm was a honorable guest. His ride pulled up when I asked him about the Elton Brand trade. Norm went on and on about Brand and then many other Bulls topics (he even found time to rip Jordan – out of all people!). The rest of the people riding with him asked him to hurry multiple times, but the man enjoyed talking Bulls basketball. After many protests, Norm gave in and left while letting me know he could keep going on about the Bulls. If you ever experienced him on radio or television, the truth in his parting words were obvious.
Today Norm Van Lier would have been 64 years old. With his principles of effort, heart, and defense, he would have loved this current Bulls team (while probably bagging on Boozer’s soft defense). I would have loved to hear his thoughts on this run. It is too bad that a man so full of life had to go too early. This website strives to keep the spirit of what Mr. Van Lier embodied on air: a little fun, personality, and analysis. Cheers, Norm. Here’s to wishing the organization wises up and retires your number.