by Ryne Nelson

Believe it or not, but the Bulls did have fans before Michael Jordan. Norm Van Lier, who died today in his Chicago apartment, made fans of many early Bulls watchers. His cause of death is still unknown, but it is thought that he fell ill due to his recent struggles with advanced heart disease. He was 61 years old.

Even those who don’t remember Van Lier and his thick sideburn chops may know him as a Bulls studio analyst for ComcastSportsnet. A CSN producer came to his home this morning, worried because he missed last night’s Bulls game without warning. From Chicago Breaking News:

Norm Van Lier, one of the most popular players in Bulls history, was found dead in his Chicago apartment today.

He was 61. The cause of death was not released, pending a report by the Cook County medical examiner.

Stormin’ Norman career’s was marked by underappreciation and silent endurance. He attended Saint Francis University after most high-major colleges balked on recruiting the 6-1 point guard. His grizzled, physical play won him respect among fans and his teammates–he played alongside his hard-nosed Bulls Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, Chet Walker and Tom Boerwinkle. In his 10 years in the L, there wasn’t much Van Lier didn’t accomplish. He lead the League in assists in 1971, made three All-Defensive First Teams, was a three-time All-Star and an All-NBA Second Teamer in 1974.

With fellow broadcaster and coach Johnny “Red” Kerr also in poor condition, this is turning into a sad couple months for the Bulls family. R.I.P., and condolences.