He was called a bench warmer, the best 15th man of all-time, and a babysitter to Dennis Rodman. All were true at some point, but Jack Haley was much more. The former UCLA center and nine-year NBA player died this week of heart disease. He was only 51 years old. Haley is being remembered fondly.
Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, and others took to Twitter to express heartfelt condolences upon hearing of Haley’s passing. The man meant a lot to those he played with and worked with. His unique role on the winningest team in NBA history went a long way in developing these lifelong friendships.
Haley played a grand total of one game for the 1995-96 record-setting Chicago Bulls, scoring five points in seven minutes. The club finished the season at 72-10, the best record ever, then barreled their way to a world championship. Haley was there for it all, albeit in a suit for virtually all of the ride. But Haley did exactly what the Bulls wanted him to do.
The 1995-96 season was Rodman’s first in Chicago. The lanky, rebounding machine had a history of trouble with the Bulls during his tenure as a two-time champion Detroit Piston. Rodman and Pippen particularly had a rivalry highlighted by an ugly incident in which Pippen cut his head on a camera thanks to a Rodman push. The Bulls wanted to win, though, so Pippen, Michael Jordan, and Jackson decided Rodman was worth the risk.
For some insurance, the team also brought in Haley, a former Bull who happened to be pals with Rodman. The idea was to make Rodman as comfortable as possible and avoid a potential awkward situation. It worked like a charm.
Sure, Rodman head butted an official and was tossed from multiple games but all in all he did what he was brought in to do. Pulling down board after board, night after night, Rodman did the dirty work on the court, while Haley did the off court dirty work—containing his buddy and keeping him out of trouble. When it came to Worm watching, Haley was a first team all-star.
Let’s not underestimate how important this task was. The Bulls won three straight titles with Horace Grant at power forward, but when they lost Grant to the Orlando Magic the Bulls were lost at the four position. Toni Kukoc and others were playing out of position and the Bulls were not able to get back to the NBA Finals. Chicago knew Rodman would be the sweetener to put them over the top. Haley, you could say, was the stirrer to make sure that sweetener blended in just right.
If Haley was not a part of the team, the job of policing Rodman would’ve been on the shoulders of one of the regulars such as Jordan or Pippen or a top reserve such as Kukoc or Steve Kerr. Either way that assignment would have hurt that player’s performance on the court.
Haley also spent time playing for the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs. Over his career he averaged 3.5 points and 2.7 rebounds. Haley later worked as an assistant coach for the Nets and a broadcaster for the Lakers. But, it’s that incredible championship Bulls season that he’s most remembered for.
You would think a man who played in only one game for a team filled with stars would be a mere afterthought, but Haley was special. He was top shelf when it came to the impact he had on others. The obvious emotion from Pippen and Jackson demonstrates that. The entire Bulls organization is in real mourning.
“The Chicago Bulls family was saddened to hear of the passing of former Bull Jack Haley,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said in a statement. “Jack was always a supportive and enthusiastic teammate and a valued member of the 1995-96 championship team that went 72-10. He always brought energy and enthusiasm to our organization and we send our condolences to Jack’s family.”
Though cut way too short, Haley had quite a life. He scored over 1,100 points in the NBA and won a championship. He helped lead UCLA to an NIT crown. He even appeared in multiple movies and the Aerosmith music video “Love in an Elevator.” Haley did a lot and had a blast doing it.
The whole notion of babysitting Rodman didn’t go over well with Haley, who often disputed the idea and insisted he was a basketball player only. If not a “babysitter” exactly, Haley helped acclimate Wormy to The Windy City and went a long way in building relationships with Pippen, Jordan, and the rest of the team. The Bulls went on to win two more titles with Rodman after Haley left for the CBA. Three seasons for Rodman in Chicago, and three championships—a wildly successful tenure boosted by Haley’s initial nurturing.
Jack Haley is survived by two sons, his mother, a brother and sister, his ex-wife Stacey, and countless Bulls fans with a true appreciation for what he meant to the amazing season in which Chicago compiled the best record in NBA history.