Jack Haley, a member of the record-setting 1996 Chicago Bulls, dies at 51

Ball Don't Lie
Jack Haley, a member of the record-setting 1996 Chicago Bulls, dies at 51
Jack Haley, a member of the record-setting 1996 Chicago Bulls, dies at 51

Jack Haley, a member of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that set an NBA record for wins in a season, died on Monday. His former coach, current New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, shocked the NBA by breaking the news with this tweet on Tuesday afternoon:

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Other former Bulls, teammates during Haley’s two different stints with the team, also offered tribute:

The Orange County Register confirmed the news soon after:

The coroner's site said Haley died at Los Alamitos Medical Center on Monday afternoon and that there were no signs of foul play.

His family said in a statement released by the Lakers that an autopsy was performed and found heart disease as the cause of death.

"It is with great sadness that the Haley family announces the passing of our beloved father, son, and brother," Haley's family said in the statement. "Jack was honored and grateful for the opportunity to play in the NBA for nine years, alongside world-class athletes with the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and New Jersey Nets."

Los Angeles Times beat reporter Ben Bolch then passed along word that Haley, who had been seen working the Los Angeles Lakers studio show following Lakers games, had been sick for some time:

Haley was a burly UCLA product that was originally drafted in the fourth round by Chicago in 1987. After a year spent playing in Spain he enjoyed a stint acting in Aerosmith’s video for “Love in an Elevator.”

The former Bruin made his NBA debut with Chicago in the fall of 1988. The center played sparingly under then-coach Doug Collins, and was waived by the Bulls (now featuring Jackson as head coach) 11 games into his second season. The 6-10 big man bounced around with the Nets, Lakers (in playing with Magic Johnson in the exhibition season, Haley became one of just three NBA players to act as teammates with Magic and Michael Jordan) before settling in with the Spurs in 1993:

It was as a Spur reserve for two seasons that Haley would develop a friendship with forward Dennis Rodman, an outcast that did not have many friends on the team he was routinely suspended by. Haley and Rodman hung out together constantly, with Haley following Rodman to all manner of Las Vegas haunts, as documented in a 1995 cover story on Rodman from Sports Illustrated:

``You need a name,'' yells Jack (Une) Haley, Rodman's friend, teammate and guardian angel. A seven-footer who seldom plays but has ridden Rodman's coattails to a small celebrity of his own, Haley is the Spurs' middle man, the guy who alternately explains Rodman to the world and explains the rules of the world to Rodman. Though Rodman seldom listens--``He rebels just to rebel,'' Haley says--the two form an odd couple who come with their own lingo.

[...]

Sleep comes after Saturday's sunrise and is ended rudely at nine o'clock by the voice of Haley, who has tracked Rodman down and telephoned his suite at the Mirage. ``What the ---- are you doing?'' Haley rails at Manley. After some back and forth, Manley wakes up Rodman, now $5,000 lighter, and puts him on the phone.

The dilemma here is nothing new. Rodman has been in trouble all season with the Spurs. San Antonio general manager Gregg Popovich, a former Marine, and coach Bob Hill set rules for the team, and Rodman decides the rules are stupid and disregards them. Rodman refers to Hill as Boner and has nothing very positive to say about the hard-line Popovich.

When the Chicago Bulls decided to take a chance on Rodman after Boner and “the hard-line Popovich” had seen enough of his antics, Haley was brought to Chicago to act as a translator of sorts. Because Haley had worked with former teammates Jordan and Pippen before, and because he had spent over a year on the same bench as Phil Jackson, Haley wasn’t in Chicago to act as Rodman’s babysitter (quite the contrary, as Haley was out just as late as Rodman was at most nights at their favorite haunt, Crobar), but as a go-between and settling force.

To hear Haley tell it, though, even that side of his Chicago career was misrepresented. From a 1998 column from K.C. Johnson at the Chicago Tribune:

"You can ask Phil Jackson. I have never to this day spoken to Phil regarding Dennis in any capacity," Haley said. "I was never here to baby-sit Dennis. He is a grown man. I had dinner with Dennis (Sunday) night. We are friends, period."

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Because the 32-year old Haley was literally fifth on Chicago’s depth chart at center in 1995-96, though, the big man wouldn’t suit up as an active player until the final game of the season. With Chicago looking to win game a record 72 games in 82 tries, Jack Haley finally took the court in uniform to score five points in just seven minutes of play against the then-Washington Bullets.

Haley would not make the playoff roster later that week, and with Rodman somewhat established as a stable force in Chicago he would not return to the team, and play in the minor leagues the next season. Haley acted as a fringe rotation player and unofficial assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets before playing his last game in 1998.

The NBA veteran will forever be known as the player that acted as Dennis Rodman’s caddie for one special year, but Haley wanted no part of being seen that way. Haley, who missed the entire 1992-93 season due to knee injuries, always contended that the team-listed “knee tendinitis” that stopped him from playing all but one of Chicago’s 100 games in 1995-96, bristled at the suggestion that he was merely there to mind Dennis.

From Melissa Isaacson at the Chicago Tribune:

Nevertheless, the perception persists because Haley hasn't played one second, spending all his time on the Bulls' injured list. Prompted by a complaint from a team, the league office sent a doctor to examine Haley's knee earlier in the season to determine if the condition was legitimate.

"Obviously, I failed with flying colors," said Haley, who has had three major surgeries--not counting arthroscopes--including reconstruction of his anterior cruciate ligament. "My knees had swelled to the size of grapefruits. I have multiple scars from surgeries, and I must be faking it.

"That's the worst part for me, not being able to play and having people think I'm either faking it or just here because of Dennis Rodman. It bothers me not being able to get out and remind the fans of Chicago as well as my family that I am an NBA basketball player, and have been for eight years."

And three seasons more following that year. And then time as an assistant ...

... and as a respected color analyst on television. Enough of an impact to be mourned by the NBA community some years later, even if Jack Haley’s championship experience was only limited to those seven ragged minutes back in 1996.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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