Unsung Heroes

April 13th, 2016 | by Sam Smith

Onetime Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was criticized years back for supposedly suggesting winning championships was beyond the scope of the players, that it was the province of organizations. Krause was a polarizing figure even as he was the architect of six Bulls championships in the 1990s. Krause’s much misunderstood point was that while the players were essential, more went into winning a championship than what everyone saw on the basketball court. Everyone needs support no matter the field, and basketball teams are no different. Krause was merely trying to shine a bit of light on the dedicated staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes so the players can put their devoted efforts into the game. In this 50th season in Bulls history, here’s a look at 10 of the longest serving backstage staff members who have helped the organization whether winning or losing.


Bob Rosenberg, Official scorer

It all began in 1961, five years before the Bulls started. The Evanston High School baseball fan was headed for a White Sox game. It was the most fortuitous rain out for Rosenberg. He then happened by the south side office of the new NBA team, the Packers, to find out the cost of tickets at the old Amphitheater. The chatty Rosenberg got to talking Chicago sports and mentioned he’d done some scoring in high school and before he was done he was the team’s scorer. After the team moved to Baltimore following the 1962-63 season, Rosenberg hooked up with the expansion Bulls in 1966 when they heard there was an NBA scorer around, though it was easier then with few officials statistics kept, like blocks or steals. Rosenberg’s been at it since, scoring more than 2,150 home games plus White Sox games. He only missed two games, that when baseball asked him to score the Cubs/Mets series opener in Japan in 2000. “Maybe if they were winning more that season I wouldn’t have gone,” Rosenberg joked. Ask Rosenberg his first Bulls game and he’s quick to note Guy Rodgers was the high scorer. The championships were the highlights, obviously, especially the 1992 one at home when Michael Jordan and Ron Harper invited him to the locker room and presented him a bottle of champagne.


John Capps, Security

He arranged the inaugural parade for the Bulls before the start of the 1966-67 season. The team informed the Chicago Police Department they were having a parade for a new professional sports franchise, the Bulls. State Street was cleared, though Capps said, “We really only needed one lane.” It was a car with managing partner Dick Klein, coach Johnny Kerr and public relations man Ben Bentley ahead of a flatbed truck with a live bull. Chicago was non plussed. Capps had done security for Floyd Patterson when he fought Sonny Liston in Chicago in 1962 and knew Bentley, who was the ring announcer. It ended up as a security role for the expansion Bulls that continues to today, though Capps no longer travels full time. He began traveling on the road in the 1991 playoffs as Michael Jordan began to get threats. “The highlight was winning that first one in L.A. after they’d been an average team for so long,” said Capps. “The threat? The FBI came in. The guy was phoning in threats from his home phone in Miami. Idiot. They got him.”


Tim Hallam, Public Relations

He’s the Bulls senior media relations director from Downstate and Illinois State where he was a star relief pitcher for the baseball team and even a Major League prospect. But it was time to get serious. He started with the Bulls for media director Mike McClure right out of college in September, 1977, and the highlight was the first day. “Here I am the first day at Angel Guardian (then the practice gym) talking with Artis Gilmore,” Hallam recalls. “What a thrill.” Hallam had so many more as the primary Bulls staff member traveling with the Bulls and Michael Jordan through the championship years. Hallam had to run interference for Jordan for everyone wanting to meet him. One time in Washington, D.C. it was a Saudi prince asking to see Jordan. Michael demurred. International incident? Hallam, as always, calmed the situation as he explained there was a Saudi prince in every city to see Jordan. It’s become one of the famous media stories still told around the NBA. When Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he asked just Hallam and Bulls ticket manager Joe O’Neil among Bulls staff to accompany him on his private jet to Springfield.


Joe O’Neil: Ticket Manager

He’d done some intern work at the Sun Times and Chicago Daily News finishing up college in 1979. On Christmas break before graduation, determined to work for a Chicago sports team, he planted himself in the Bulls old offices at 333 North Michigan and wouldn’t leave. Eventually he met accountant Irwin Mandel, whom he kept in touch with. Then Mandel had a project. United Airlines had a strike in 1979. When they settled they were offering customers half fare vouchers. Could O’Neil hang around O’Hare and buy some and then the Bulls, traveling commercial then, could use them for player fares and save money? That was the Bulls and their eight-person staff then. In less than three hours, O’Neil collected thousands of dollars worth for the $2,000 the Bulls spent. Yes, the Bulls would travel another season. O’Neil was the new ticket manager. He’s gone on to become a top Chicago restaurateur with his O’Neil’s on Wells establishment and joined with Bulls photographer, who established the New Day Cambodia foundation to help children in need. O’Neil is leaving on his 21st trip to Cambodia this week. O’Neil met his wife Susan, who was a Bulls secretary, when he began and they have three children. There were all the titles from that inauspicious start, his kids getting to work as ball boys at times and as ticket manager the most popular—and under siege—person in Chicago in the 1990s. But O’Neil said the highlight was that trip with Jordan to Springfield. “It wasn’t like we were super close, but that he remembered and to be on the plane,” says O’Neil. “The reminiscing from how it all started to where we came. That was terrific.”


Bill Smith, Photographer

He was a photo hobbyist from Oak Park who went to Triton College. He’d pick up new equipment to try out on travels as he liked to travel the world on the cheap. He heard about a soccer team starting in Chicago in 1974, the Sting, and figured they’d need some pictures. He got assignments. The Sting was in the 333 Michigan building and he got to know Bulls staffers there and in 1976 the Bulls asked him about taking pictures for them as well. He’s since added the Bears, White Sox and Blackhawks and United Center work. He’s never collected memorabilia despite his connections with so many Chicago sports stars, but one he did get was the only time Jordan, Pippen and Rodman ever posed together for a picture. “Those 1996-98 seasons were a rock star road show, the ultimate in sports marketing,” says Smith. “Amazing to be around that.” But his highlight has to be one of the world’s great humanitarian efforts, New Day Cambodia. He liked to travel and take pictures and happened to go to orphanages as one of his stops. He came upon this garbage dump where children scavenged to sell items and survive. The result was he and his wife, Lauren, adopting a child and establishing a school with the donations to the charity. Smith has traveled to the area twice a year since 1991 and lately has been joined by O’Neil and Hallam.


Tommy Edwards, Public Address Announcer

He began in 1976 as the public address announcer, did so until 1990 when he went to Boston as a programmer at WODS and made it No. 1 in the market. CBS then sent him to Los Angeles as their station fixer. His Animal Stories with Larry Lujack on WLS became one of the most popular radio shows in Chicago annals. He grew up in Topeka, Kansas and got the bug after getting to read the police report on the local radio station where he was helping out. He is credited with discovering the Bulls famous Eye in the Sky opening, hearing it on background music one day while seeing a show at the old Biograph theater. He remembers one night a furious Patrick Ewing as the horn went off every time he was shooting free throws. The officials were looking all over and it turns out Johnny Kerr kept kicking the horn. The highlights, he says, was making such good friends like Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Mickey Johnson and John Mengelt and having the best center court seat at all those great games.


Pam Kunkel, Press Room Operations

The Illinois Wesleyan graduate from Midlothian became a teacher. Her husband, Walt, and some buddies were using the partial season tickets they were buying and she also wanted to see the games. So she contacted the Bulls in 1974 about helping out. “It was my hobby,” she says. She came to manage the game night staff of press assistants who distribute statistics to the media and broadcasters and the teams, make the copies and do the clerical work. So she isn’t watching too many games anymore despite still being with the Bulls. The highlight: “The night Michael Jordan kissed me,” she blushes. After the Bulls won their fourth title in 1996, she was late solving a stuck elevator emergency situation with statistics delivery to the upper press boxes. “I’d never spoken to Michael,” she says. “He walked by and said, ‘Congratulations, I know this is your fourth one,” and he gave me a kiss on the cheek.”


John Ligmanowski, Equipment

His cousin was working with the trainer in the mid-1970s and he was helping out while a student at East Leyden High School and began working full time in 1990. Like many veterans around the Bulls, he points to that 1991 championship as the highlight after the years of getting so close and failing. Ligmanowski was the guy who gave Jordan the idea to go back to No. 23 from No. 45 in the 1995 playoffs and has had a whirlwind career of sporting and entertainment celebrity with Hollywood stars flocking to meet Jordan and get a piece of his equipment. “I liked Jack Nicholson. Bill Murray always was hanging around the trainers’ room. Funny guy. I remember 1993 getting on the plane to go to the game and he’s smoking a cigar,” recalls Ligmanowski of Jordan. “I asked why he was smoking a cigar now and he said it was a victory cigar.”


Marc Grossman, Statistician

He was a stats nerd in college at the U. of Rochester, doing statistics for the division three school. A family friend knew Bulls owner Jonathan Kovler and back home he got a chance to work on the scorers’ table starting in the 1977-78 season, then the guy holding the ping pong paddles that signaled fouls and compiling post game quotes. But from that Bulls start he went on to where he still does more than 300 games a year for the NBA and WNBA, Major League Baseball plus local colleges and the lingerie football league. Hey, someone has to do it. He runs the stats crew at the scoring table, who call out and decide assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and has had to referee disputes like when he said Jordan and Scottie Pippen used to argue who should get the steal. The highlight is easy: “Great seats for every one of those Bulls games in the Finals,” he says. In his “spare” time he’s also run jazz clubs around Chicago and has done video direct sales and marketing.


Karen Umlauf, Basketball Administration

The South Hollander was a top athlete who graduated from Northwestern and played professional basketball in France and then briefly back in Chicago for the short lived Spirit. The Bulls with the arrival of Jordan in 1984 and new ownership in 1985 realized you could sell tickets and suddenly were looking for staff from an organization of perhaps a dozen people. She hooked on in 1985 to help in sales and public relations, typing play by play after games. Her brother, Jim, also a Northwestern varsity player who also played in Europe, became an assistant to general manager Krause and she worked for Krause in administration and also helped run the Berto Center and eventually became responsible for organizing the team’s travel and lodging. Her nephew is Frank Kaminsky, the Charlotte rookie, and says nothing will replace being in the locker room that night in Los Angeles in 1991, “See how happy everyone was, it really being so unexpected, a time of such innocence and joy.”

Presented by