Former Bulls broadcaster John G. “Red” Kerr passed away at his home Thursday due to a long time battle with prostate cancer at the age of 76. Kerr died just hours after former Bulls player and analyst Norm Van Lier was found dead in his Chicago home.
Kerr was the first Chicago Bulls coach (1966-68) and later had a 33-year run as the team’s television and radio analyst. Until this season (when declining health forced him to scale back his workload), he was paired with Tom Dore for Comcast SportsNet telecasts and Wayne Larrivee on WGN-TV.
Kerr’s NBA career began with the Syracuse Nationals in 1954, which moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers in 1963. He stayed with the franchise until 1965, when he was traded to the Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards). In 1966, he retired as a player from pro basketball and took the Bulls’ coaching job.
In the Bulls’ first season (which home games were played at the International Amphitheatre at 43rd and Halsted), the expansion Bulls made the playoffs despite a 33-48 record – a first for any team in North America’s four major sports – and was named NBA coach of the year.
Kerr left the Bulls in 1968 for a coaching gig with the expansion Phoenix Suns and subsequently worked for an ABA team before returning to the Bulls as a business manager in 1973. Two years later, Kerr became the team’s color analyst, being teamed with broadcaster Jim Durham at first.
Kerr also emceed the Bulls’ championship celebrations at Grant Park during the Michael Jordan era, and did a lot of them – six to be exact.
Even though younger fans aren’t familiar with his days as a Bulls coach or his dabbling behind-the-scenes of the team, Kerr will be remembered for his enthusiastic style as a color commentator (especially when Michael Jordan sunk a game winning shot) and the team’s unofficial ambassador. Watching Johnny “Red” Kerr and Norm Van Lier during Bulls’ broadcasts were always fun, and won’t be the same without them.