Tom Boerwinkle, Who Had Night to Remember as a Rebounder, Dies at 67
Published: March 28, 2013
Tom Boerwinkle, a stalwart center for the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s who once used his 7-foot frame to grab 37 rebounds in a game known both for that feat — a team record that still stands — and for the frigid conditions in which it was played, died on Tuesday at his home near Chicago. He was 67.
Larry E. Stoddard/Associated Press
The cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, the Bulls said.
Long before the glory years of Michael Jordan, Boerwinkle was an unlikely and efficient playmaker in Chicago, a giant who deftly slipped backdoor passes, set decisive picks and collected the ball off the boards with steady professionalism.
He played all 10 of his seasons for the Bulls and ranks second on the team’s career rebound list. His 5,745 are behind only Jordan’s 5,836, yet Jordan played 35,887 minutes for the Bulls over 13 seasons while Boerwinkle played 14,387, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Boerwinkle also ranks eighth on the team in assists with 2,007. (Jordan is first with 5,012.)
“Half the points I scored came from him, those lob passes,” Bob Love, a star forward who ranks third in career scoring for the Bulls, said in an interview on Thursday. “We played together so long we could kind of read each other. We didn’t have to say a word; we just caught each other’s eye.”
Boerwinkle was no Jordan. He averaged 7.2 points per game, and he never led his team to the N.B.A. finals — though the Bulls came close in 1974 and 1975, losing both years in the Western Conference finals. But Boerwinkle played some memorable games, notably one on Jan. 8, 1970, at Chicago Stadium.
“One of the most wicked cold snaps in Chicago history was paralyzing the city,” Boerwinkle recalled in a 2005interview posted on the Bulls’ Web site. “By Jan. 8, it had been below zero for 10 straight days.
“Of course, you normally wouldn’t worry how cold it was outside when playing a game indoors at Chicago Stadium, but Murphy’s Law applied to this game — the stadium’s heater was broken. And as the teams and officials were discussing whether to play the game at all on that very chilly night, there was one little secret nobody knew: I was a cold-weather person.”
Players and coaches on the bench wore jackets and mittens. Their opponent was the Phoenix Suns, a team not particularly accustomed to the cold.
“Never had I experienced the breaks — not in high school, college or the pros — that I did on that night,” Boerwinkle recalled. “Everything was bouncing my way. I had 12 rebounds by the end of the first quarter and was closing in on 20 by halftime. Balls were just finding their way to me.”
Although Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had more than 40 rebounds in a game many times before that night — Chamberlain holds the single-game record, 55 — no one has had more than 37 since that night in Chicago, according toNBAHoopsOnline.com. Moses Malone had 37 in a game in 1979.
Tom Boerwinkle was born on Aug. 23, 1945, in Cleveland. He played for the University of Tennessee and helped the team win the 1967 Southeastern Conference championship. The next year he was named a Helms Foundation first-team all-American and was drafted fourth over all by the Bulls.
His final season with the Bulls was 1977-78. He spent three years as a radio broadcaster for the team in the early 1990s.
Survivors include his wife, Linda; a daughter, Gretchen; and a son, Jeff.
“He couldn’t run very fast, he couldn’t jump very high, but he could rebound, and he could set those picks for you, boy,” Love said. “He was very unselfish.”