Thursday, February 26th, 2009 at 4:40 pm  |  38 responses

R.I.P., Norm Van Lier

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.

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  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com BETCATS

    R.I.P. Sad stuff.

  • http://trulyhoops.blogspot.com Collin

    Rest in Peace

  • mike

    poor guy, RIP

  • http://iwantoutofokc.com/ James the balla


  • Sebastian B. O. Bunionstow, esq.

    Having spent time with Norm during the MJ Dynasty, I can tell you Norm had plenty of heart. He was a very good man.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    61 is too young. I watched every Bulls broadcast from ’95 to ’98 and countless more in the following decade. Van Lier and Red Kerr always made the games incredibly enjoyable. He’s a huge Bulls icon as far as I’m concerned.

  • Mattyd

    RIP. I saw Norm at a fund raiser, nicest guy looked like he was having a great time. Did it out of his own free will and time.

  • Mattyd

    RIP. I saw Norm at a fund raiser for Williams Syndrom, nicest guy looked like he was having a great time. Did it out of his own free will and time.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    If you’re around Russ, do you know why the Bulls refused to retire his number?

  • donlaker

    as a 6 year old kid in los angeles i was lucky enough to see him play ,the lakers. and i always wondered who was tougher, van lier or jerry sloan and norm could pass the ball almost as good as oscar robinson and jerry west R.I.P MR Assist.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    This sucks.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    Condolences to his family. Rest In Peace.

  • Diesel

    Sad stuff. Norm was a good guy. He was always around the city and never above taking pictures and talking with the fans. He was also pretty entertaining on CSN and always told it like it was…dogging the Bulls when they needed a kick in the pants. Good guy and he’ll be missed.

  • t-rocc

    this was super sad news to read today. i loved Norm, had the chance to meet him, and he was an immensely entertaining guy, still very passionate about the Bulls. you’re right, Ryne – this along with Red Kerr’s failing health have made 2009 a pretty sad year for Bulls fans all around…

  • Tommy Patron

    R.I.P., Norm. I ran into him several times out and about. He was always a gentleman, and VERY entertaining in a bar environment.

  • slamfan4life

    Really sad to hear this, RIP

  • malak33zy

    thats so sad R.I.P

  • Pingback: Norm Van Lier » By The Horns

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    Johnny Red Kerr just died too, or so says Kevin Harlan.

  • airs

    RIP norm and johnny red. this saddens me greatly, ive watched them my entire life. i feel like i lost distant family members, its going to be so weird watching the post game show without norm. it was weird enough without red on the sidelines. sad day for the bulls organization..

  • http://where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    RIP Norm and Johnny. Heaven’s telecast of Bulls games just got a lot better. Prayers go out to the families and the Chi.

  • kingofsota

    Johnny Kerr died last night as well, so two huge pieces of the Bulls franchise are now gone.. RIP Van Lier and Kerr.

  • Pingback: SLAM ONLINE | » R.I.P, Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr

  • Blinguo

    Too young to know about his career but always remembered that great name and thanks to the Basketball reference site, I have looked up his page much more than once in the past year or so. RIP.

  • Rich

    Norm told it like it was for years. Him and Kendall Gill on Comcast Sportsnet, happy times. RIP. Chitown.

  • Cizzo

    One of the best P.Geez to suit up for the Bulls hands down if not the best R.I.P.!!

  • http://myspace.com/mavus15 Mavus

    Quick story: When I moved from St. Louis to Chicago for college, people were so different from where I come from – it’s a me me me attitude here and no one even looks you in the eye. But my first day of class was over and I went down stairs in Merchandise Mart, and Mr. Van Lier walked up and was just the nicest guy man. And it really made me feel better about making the decision to come to Chicago in the first place. Great man, R.I.P.

  • Orlando Woolridge

    What a sad day for chicago. Norm and Red will both be missed greatly. The only other time I can remember being so emotional when someone I didn’t know personally had passed was when Walter Payton died. All three are true chi town legends and class acts all the way around. For those of you in chicago, watch the tributes they are airing on CSN…I was tearing up within a minute. Great stories though. RIP.

  • Henri

    I created an online memorial for Norm. Please visit and leave any comments, stories, pictures, light a candle, etc., it’s free. He was such a great player and role model, we miss you Norm!


  • Candice

    It’s just crazy because he was just on TV the other night. I’m going to miss him saying 48 mins of intensity.

  • Pigott17

    Rest in peace stormin norman

    if it wasnt for you the bulls would of never felt the likes of bob love

  • http://yahoo ADRIENNE

    Norm Van Lier made basketball very exciting when he played and fans would come to the “madhouse on Madison” just to see him and Jerry Sloan play intense basketball. But above all else Norm was a people person and down to earth. He never acted like he was too good to speak to anyone and was always friendly, fun and respectful. He was a good man with alot of heart and it is hard to believe he is gone – so full of life, he was. He will be sorely missed. Gone to soon. My condolences to the family and all of Chicago……

  • Mary Duncan

    To Susie and the girls
    From Harold Render’s stepdaughter, Mary Duncan
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Harold was always in you corner, as he would be now. Any time you are in the Pacific Northwest please feel free to call on me.
    I admired your husband on many levels and always felt a kinship with you.
    Peace and love,
    Mary Duncan

  • Karen in chicago

    Norm was always a pleasure to listen to…he will be sorely missed!…what a sad day for basketball and Bulls fans…hope they have a great team upstairs!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    This is one of the greatest You Tube clips ever. I am love with Norm VL and terribly saddened that I never interviewed him.

  • barbara


  • Bob Henry

    Not enough is said about the great player he was at St. Francis College. He was every bit the star there as he proved to be in the NBA. St Francis basketball was blessed to have had him for 4 years and has never been the same since. Norm was a one in a million talent for a school like that, and I was lucky to be there then as well.

    Rest in Peace Stormin Norman

  • Susi Gilmartin

    I know I will never get over the death of my friend and great love Norm (“Ookie”) Vanlier (the real spelling of his name). I have known Norm since 1969 and fell for him when we worked together during his off-season stint at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. Norm and I kept in touch with each other throughout the years. He always said I was the love of his life. He always dreamed of being together. And I always excused the thought. I followed his career and kept in touch with “Mom” Vanlier off and on. The last time I actually saw Norm was two years ago from this past September. I met him and his “brother” Keith (as he referred to his best friend) in Las Vegas for a Naismith Basketball Foundation event. He kept introducing me as “[his] wife.” Looking back now, I was so very privileged to have his love. Just six months before his timely death, he called me late one night to tell me he was “coming to get [me]” and that he “decided to get a divorce” and that he wanted to be happy. After all, he had no one with him in the 17 or so years he lived in Chicago. Although Norm felt lonely, he was really not alone. I realized that when I saw the outpouring of love and respect at the funeral home … for Norm had the entire city of Chicago who absolutely adored him. He used to tell me that Michael Jordan was “the King” but he [Norm] was “the Prince.” (smile) God! I was so fortunate to have his love. I only realized it too late. If I could move back time, I would have been there for him … in Chicago … at the moment he needed me or someone that night. I feel such great regret … such a great loss of a wonderful human being who was so loved and whose humor, intellect, personality, talent, honesty, and friendship was valued by so many. My heart will never be healed since I now know what Norm always said to me was so very true … “You know you love me … You know you do.” He was so right. I do love you, Ookie. My heart aches.