Analyzing how former Wildcat stars Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler helped to fuel the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty during the 1990’s.
For those that got to witness, it was an amazing site to see as Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominated the 90s. It was even better to see it done with former Wildcats Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler.
Of course today, Kerr is most known today as the coach of the Golden State Warriors. And ever since he traded his sneakers for a clipboard, he has had a very successful career as head coach, winning three championships in 2015, 2017, and 2018, respectively.
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Buechler is now an assistant for the New York Knicks, today. He has been on the staff since the start of this past season, and coached the team during last year’s NBA Summer League.
While both have steady careers as coaches, the two seemed to really get their notoriety, as they were a part of one of the NBA’s most legendary dynasties.
Prior to their careers as coaches, Kerr signed with the Bulls in 1993 and Buechler in 1994. They joined after the first retirement of Michael Jordan, after the championship run the Bulls had winning three straight for the first time from 1991-93.
Jordan retired after the Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals, and needing key players, the Bulls found some crucial pieces in Kerr and Buechler, as both were key members of the next three-peat that happened after Jordan came back.
Kerr even hit the series clinching shot in the 1997 NBA Finals that helped to deliver the Bulls their fifth championship in seven years.
Jud Buechler: NBA Sharpshooter and Journeyman
Buechler grew up in Poway, California and attended high school there. He ended up committing to the University of Arizona, not for basketball, but actually for volleyball, and he ended up being an All-American volleyball player, while also playing on the Wildcats basketball team all four years of being college.
Never really a collegiate superstar, he averaged around 8.7 points a game during his time with the Wildcats, becoming a crucial member to the team.
He eventually got drafted in the second-round of the 1990 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics as the 38th pick, and was immediately traded to the New Jersey Nets.
From there he bounced around from the Nets to the San Antonio Spurs, and the Golden State Warriors before landing with the Chicago Bulls in 1994. Until then, Buechler was prided on being a key role player, averaging 6.2 points per game for his career.
Then moving to Chicago, Buechler appeared with the Jordan-less Bulls, until MJ later came back that same year. This started an unbelievable run that Buechler was able to be apart of.
He was a key piece for those championship teams, coming off the bench and was able to take pressure off Jordan and Scottie Pippen by being able to hit threes when needed to. While in Chicago, Buechler won titles to help bolster his career.
And with the recent release of ESPN’s documentary, “The Last Dance”, there has been a rejuvenated interest in the Bulls dynasty. Naturally, Buechler was a part of the documentary as well as a number of other players, coaches, etc.
Jud was one of the people in the documentary that talked about how the way Jordan lead “was with fear, and that as teammates he pushed him and everyone else very hard.” He thinks that as a leader it worked for him and everyone else though.
While Buechler ultimately left the Bulls in 1998, he would later bounce around from the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, and Orlando Magic, before he officially retiring in 2002. After departing with the Bulls, his career success was never the same.
Even though his playing career is over, perhaps he could soon become the next great, former Wildcat coach.
He currently is an assistant coach in the NBA with the Knicks, but Buechler first got his start in 2016, when he was on staff with the Los Angeles Lakers. Should he keep climbing the ranks, perhaps he may soon be a head coach.
Steve Kerr: NBA Sharpshooter and Winner
As you know, Kerr was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent much of his youth growing up in the Middle East because of his family’s educational and humanitarian related careers. Eventually they would come back to their roots of Los Angeles, CA as Kerr attended High School in the United Sates.
As we learned from the documentary as well, Lute Olson and the University of Arizona was the only major school to offer him a scholarship, and he took it without ever visiting the campus.
He was a big part of the beginning of Coach Olson’s success in Tucson, and was also a part of the Wildcats’ Final Four run his senior season in 1987-88.
As many knew, and as it was also revealed in the documentary, Kerr’s father Malcolm, was killed in 1984 in Beirut. From that point, it became a defining moment for Kerr, then a freshman in college.
Malcolm was the president of the American University of Beirut, and he was killed by gunmen just outside his office.
During a rivalry game against the Arizona State Sun Devils in 1988, Kerr received a barrage of insensitive comments from ASU fans, regarding his father’s death.
In response, Kerr went 6-for-6 from the three-point line and finished the game with 22 points. He helped power the Wildcats to a 28-point win, and days later, ASU Athletic Director Charles Harris sent a letter of apology to Kerr.
Kerr would finish his collegiate career by setting a three-point field goal percentage record his final season, hitting 57.3 percent.
Kerr got a shot in the NBA from the Phoenix Suns, and bounced from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Orlando Magic, experiencing what it was like to be on a winner in Cleveland, but repeatedly saw their hopes dashed by the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Kerr was on the Orlando Magic during Shaquille O’Neal’s first year, and just barely missed out on the playoffs.
In 1993, Kerr signed with the Chicago Bulls, shortly after Jordan’s first retirement.
Even without MJ, the team had great success that first year, but lost to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The next year was more up and down due to Horace Grant leaving, and as Jordan came back in March of that season, the team took off towards the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but lost to the Orlando Magic.
The next season, Jordan showed up to training camp and practice as hungry as ever. He wanted to prove that he still had what it took to be the best player in basketball. He also had a very new team, and wanted to see what those teammates were made of.
Head coach, Phil Jackson, started calling fouls that Jordan described as “ticky-tacky,” and it just made him even more aggressive. The next time up the floor he fouled Kerr hard and screamed at Jackson “now that’s a (expletive) foul.” Kerr had enough and immediately punched Jordan in the chest, and Jordan retaliated with a punch to the eye. Both Jordan and Kerr cite the incident as something that made them respect and trust each other even further, and they both grew from that incident.
During the 1995-96 season, the Bulls finished with the best record in the history of the NBA up to that point at 72-10, and won a championship against the Seattle Supersonics.
It was during the 1996-1997 season, where Kerr proved his three-point marksmanship even more by winning the three-point contest. The Bulls ended up in the Finals again, this time against the Utah Jazz, and the series ended up in a game six in Chicago.
Television cameras caught a conversation between Jordan and Kerr, with Jordan saying “Steve be ready,” and Kerr saying “If he comes off I’ll be open,” referring to him getting double-teamed by John Stockton. Sure enough, that’s what happened, and Jordan got Kerr the ball, and he drained the jumper to give the Bulls their 5th title in seven years.
Kerr was apart of the Bulls for one more year and won another championship with the team in 1998 before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs, where he won a championship with the Spurs in 1999 as well.
He was later traded to the Portland Trailblazers in 2001, and then back to the Spurs where he won yet another championship in 2003, before retiring after the Finals that year. At the time, he held the best three-point percentage in a season at 52.4 percent and for a career at 45.4 percent.
Despite hanging up the sneakers, Kerr stayed around the game of basketball after retiring, even becoming the General Manager for the Phoenix Suns from 2007 to 2010.
He got into broadcasting as well, doing it after he retired in 2003, and then came back to it in 2011 to 2014.
However, Kerr is most known today for being the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. He became coach prior to the 2014-15 season, and since has won three championships in five appearances. Becoming arguably the most achieved Wildcat.
With Jordan certainly getting and deserving a bulk of the credit for the Bulls’ dynasty, let’s not forget the importance of both Steve and Jud during that time as well! As always, Bear Down, Arizona!