(Originally published on The Bulls Zone)
You have no idea how badly I wanted to use this image as the main image for this article, but I didn’t. I’m not here to be a Kirk “hater” or to complain about how bad he has been for this team. I’m here to examine a legitimate question: Should Kirk Hinrich’s jersey be hanging in the rafters of the United Center?
This may seem silly on its’ face, but there is a legion of Bulls fans that feel like Hinrich, possibly due to his longevity and his loyalty to the organization, deserves to have number 12 hanging alongside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan, and Bob Love. It’s easy to see why Bulls fans feel that way. Hinrich’s place in the Bulls’ all-time leaders tells the story: 3rd in games played for the Bulls, 4th in minutes played, 8th in field goals, 1st in three-point field goals, 3rd in assists, 3rd in steals, 8th in points. It’s obvious that he’s contributed something to this organization in his 11 seasons with the team.
But are his statistics and accomplishments justifiable for retiring the number 12 or should the Bulls simply reward him for being there a long time? The Bulls have a pretty exclusive club of retired numbers and for Hinrich to break into that group, there has to be overwhelming evidence that he belongs. The best way to gauge his status is to compare him with Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. (Note: To compare Hinrich’s statistics with Jordan and Pippen’s would be absolutely ridiculous. I’m not going there.) Here’s what Jerry Sloan and Bob Love accomplished in their careers:
(Note: Bulls statistics only. Also, there was no three-point shot when Sloan and Love played)
Jerry Sloan: 14 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 42.7% FG, 72.3% FT, 13.3 PER, 2x All-Star, 4-time All-Defensive 1st team, 2-time All-Defensive 2nd team
Bob Love: 21.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.2 bpg, 43% FG, 81.6% FT, 15.5 PER, 3x All-Star, 2-time All-NBA 2nd team, 3-time All-Defensive 2nd team
Kirk Hinrich: 11.4 ppg, 3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.3 bpg, 40.8% FG, 37.6% 3pt, 79.7% FT, 13.1 PER, NBA All-Rookie 1st team, 1-time All-Defensive 2nd team
Looking at Hinrich’s statistics alongside the other two jerseys outside the Bulls’ dynasty, the proposal doesn’t seem as insane. It’s important to note that neither Love or Sloan is in the Hall of Fame as a player (Sloan is as a coach). Hinrich’s longevity and statistics alongside these two may give him the nudge he needs to have his jersey retired. However, Hinrich is significantly lacking in accomplishments. Both Love and Sloan made multiple All-Star teams and were regulars in the All-Defensive teams. Hinrich has only a single appearance. Also hurting Hinrich is the lack of team success he’s seen in Chicago. The 1974-1975 Bulls made it to the Western Conference Finals, ultimately losing to Golden State. Hinrich was never on a 50 win team until last season. Is that all his fault? Not really, but if you look at that ’74-75 Bulls team, Love was “the guy” and Sloan was a valuable contributor. If Hinrich was the face of the “Baby Bulls” in the early 2000s, he may get penalized by their relative lack of success. Those Bulls hit a ceiling after upsetting Miami in the first round and then missing the playoffs the next season before the course of the franchise changed and they entered the Derrick Rose era.
But if you watched the Bulls in that era, you remember a better Kirk Hinrich than we’ve seen the past few years in Chicago. You remember a feisty defender, a guy who wanted to fight Rajon Rondo in the playoffs, you remember the guy who averaged a 16/6 and shot 44% from the field and 41% from 3, you remember the infamous grit and energy he played with, you remember a guy who literally tackled Lebron James, and you remember a guy who became one of the most beloved Chicago Bulls ever. Fans simply love Kirk Hinrich.
But being loved and having grit doesn’t get your jersey retired. Relative to the other players whose jerseys are hanging in the United Center, he has a case and a valid one. But to me, Kirk Hinrich doesn’t deserve to have that #12 retired. He was the face of an era, a fan favorite, and a solid player, but to immortalize him in the rafters seems a bit much. But in a world where Koko B. Ware and The Godfather are in the WWE Hall of Fame, where Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, and Roger Clemens are absent from baseball’s hall of fame, and where the Cavaliers have Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ jersey hanging up in the Quicken Loans Arena, anything is possible. And maybe that’s the best way to define the “Baby Bulls” era: Anything was possible.