Wednesday morning, Bob Hansen was at a Des Moines hardware store, picking up some leaf bags.
Twenty years ago tomorrow, he was picking up the NBA championship game-ball in Chicago after doing his part to help the Bulls win the deciding contest.
It was Game 6 of the Finals, and the Bulls led the series 3 games to 2. But the Blazers built a 79-64 lead through three quarters.
“Portland was rolling, high-fiving, having a good old time,” recalled Hansen, who played at Iowa and has been the Hawkeyes’ basketball radio analyst since the 1992-93 season.
“My mom and dad and my wife were there. They were all there for a party, but instead it looked like we’d have to prepare for Game 7, where anything could happen.
“I was sitting on the bench with Stacey King and Scott Williams, and thinking ‘Come on, Phil, do something.’ “
Phil Jackson, the Bulls’ coach, did just that. He inserted Hansen, King, Williams, and then-reserve guard B.J. Armstrong of Iowa in the game with Scottie Pippen to begin the fourth quarter, and took out Michael Jordan and three other starters.
“Phil said ‘Bobby, get in there!’ I said ‘Who am I in for?’ He said ‘MJ.’ All right. Phil said ‘Let’s see if we can get something going real quick.’ ”
Jackson’s wish was granted.
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“Danny Ainge left me in the corner to chase down Pip or somebody,” Hansen said. “B.J. threw me a pass right on the money. I hadn’t shot a basket in about two hours since warming up before the game. I was right in front of the Portland bench. They said ‘Yeah, this is a miss.’ “
They were wrong, and Hansen’s 3-pointer cut the Blazers’ lead to 12.
“Then I ran back. They threw the ball to Jerome Kersey, and I came in and swiped it from him. I threw it ahead to Pippen and he scores. We’re down 10 and the roof’s coming off Chicago Stadium.
“(Portland Coach Rick) Adelman called a timeout. Only 30 seconds is gone from the quarter and I’m hyperventilating, just like I am now telling you this story.”
Hansen asked Jordan if he wanted back in the game. He said Jordan told him no, keep going. Jordan was cheerleading from the sideline.
“In the huddle, Phil said ‘Calm down, you’re doing a good job.’ Then he looked me in the eye and said ‘Don’t eff it up.’ “
In the first five minutes of that quarter, Pippen and the four reserves cut the Portland lead to three points. Armstrong bobbled a pass in the paint, but quickly recovered the ball and sank a short jumper of his own during the comeback. Adelman called another timeout.
“Michael said ‘Nice job, I’ll take it home,’ ” Hansen said. “He took us home.”
Chicago won, 97-93, for the Bulls’ second of what would be six championships with Jordan and Pippen.
For Hansen, it was his final NBA game. He sparked what would lead to a whopper of a celebration, with Bulls’ players dancing on the scorer’s table and a city partying through the night.
“I made the last shot I ever took,” said Hansen.
“A couple days later I was golfing with Russ Cochran in the pro-am of the Western Open (in Chicagoland). He was the defending champion. He told me I ought to retire on that note.”
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Cochran was joking, but 9-year veteran Hansen had already been thinking about it. He didn’t have a guaranteed contract for the following season, had two young daughters, and had an itch to move into this next phase of his life.
“I became a better player in my final year,” he said, “but my body was wearing out. I feel it today at 51 in my hips and knee and shoulder.”
At 31, Hansen was traded from the Sacramento Kings to Chicago just two games into the 1991-92 season. He had been dealt to the Kings the season before after spending seven years with the Utah Jazz, playing in 507 games for them and starting 293. He once made an NBA playoffs-record 15 consecutive field goal tries over two games against Dallas in 1986.
“I’d asked Kings General Manager Jerry Reynolds if he could trade me to a team in the Midwest. He said Chicago was just there looking at me. I said ‘The Chicago Bulls?’ He said they wanted to trade Dennis Hopson, who was young and wanted to be on the floor, and backing up Jordan wasn’t his thing.”
The question the Bulls had about Hansen before the trade was if he would be willing and able to be a durable practice player, “because I wasn’t going to play much and you’ve got to be ready to practice or Jordan will wear you out. It was true. Jordan would challenge you.”
Hansen played in 66 regular-season games for the Bulls as a backup, averaging 2.5 points. He played sparingly in the postseason, but had five unforgettable minutes on June 14, 1992.
“I had the game ball and I was running with it down the steps to the dressing room in the old Stadium,” Hansen said. “Everybody was trying to swipe it. I gave it to Michael and said ‘Thanks, it’s been a great ride.’ I kind of knew it might be the end of my career.
“He said ‘I told you I’d get you that ring.’ ”
But the best player in the world had help, especially in the clinching victory.
“We were the best team in the world,” Hansen said.