Van Lier found dead at home

CHICAGO -- Norm Van Lier, one of the most popular players in Chicago Bulls history and one of the NBA's top defensive players in the 1970s, was found dead in his home just blocks away from the team's arena Thursday. He was 61.

The cause of death was not immediately known, authorities said.

Van Lier's death was discovered on the same day that former Bulls coach Johnny "Red" Kerr died.

Kerr, 76, coached the Bulls to the playoffs in their inaugural 1966-67 season and spent more than 30 years calling their games on local broadcast outlets.

Van Lier, who most recently worked for Comcast SportsNet Chicago, had been scheduled as a pre- and post-game analyst for Wednesday night's Bulls game with the New Jersey Nets.

Comcast officials became concerned when Van Lier did not show up for work and could not be reached Thursday. An employee was sent to his apartment near the United Center on the city's near West Side, said Jim Corno, president of Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The employee tried unsuccessfully to get inside.

Authorities responded to a subsequent well-being check and found Van Lier unresponsive shortly before 1 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Quention Curtis said.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office confirmed Van Lier's death but said a cause was not immediately known.

"Norm Van Lier was one of the all-time greats ever to put on a Chicago Bulls uniform," team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "Along with Jerry Sloan, he set a standard for Bulls defense and toughness which we will never forget and which we will always strive to replicate."

Van Lier began his NBA career with Cincinnati in 1969. He later spent more than six seasons with the Chicago Bulls before finishing his career with Milwaukee in 1979.

A three-time All-Star, Van Lier played on five playoff teams.

It was Van Lier's time with the Bulls for which he was most vividly remembered.

Van Lier was a defensive standout and a fan favorite who was given the name "Stormin' Norman" for his fiery play and defensive tenacity.

Part of the NBA's all-defensive first or second teams eight times, Van Lier and longtime teammate Sloan, now the coach of the Utah Jazz, formed one of the top defensive guard tandems in NBA history.

"That's really a shame. He was an unbelievable competitor and a great teammate," said Houston coach Rick Adelman, who played with him in Chicago from 1973 to 1975. "I really enjoyed the time with him and Sloan at the guards. You really can't have two better competitors."

In a statement released by the Jazz, Sloan called Van Lier a fierce competitor. He also said the two were close friends, recalling how Van Lier babysat Sloan's children a number of times when the two were on the Bulls.

"Norm Van Lier was a great teammate and a close friend ... Even though we didn't get to see each as other as often as we would have liked in recent years, there was always a great friendship there," Sloan said.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson remembered playing against Van Lier during their NBA careers and "trying to avoid running over him because he always stepped in your way. He was one of those guys that always tried to get a charge and turn the game over," Jackson said.

The two men were reunited in Chicago when Jackson coached the Bulls for nine years and guided them to six NBA championships.

"Norm was a die-hard Bulls guy," Jackson said.

Van Lier retired after the 1979 season with 8,770 points and 5,217 assists. He finished among the league's top 10 in assists eight times, and among the league's top 10 in steals per game three times, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

"Norm was a complete player, a wonderful passer, a tenacious rebounder and an original character in the 1970s," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "We are all fortunate that Norm continued to share his passion and insight as a broadcaster for the Bulls since the early '90s."

Van Lier the analyst remained a huge Bulls fan, albeit at times a critical one who would call out players he did not think were playing hard or smart.

"If he felt like a guy was not giving maximum effort and not playing the right way he'd let him have it in the post-game show," said Mark Schanowski, the host of the pre- and post-game shows who worked with Van Lier for four years.

"He wore the Bulls on his sleeve," Corno said. "When the Bulls played well, Norm was good and happy enough. When they didn't play well, he felt it."