TIM HALLAM WAS DAVID SPADE before David Spade was David Spade.
That means he’s been smart, on top of human folly and always capable of another caustic gear.
For the past 45 seasons, all Chicago Bulls — from Michael Jordan on down to the M.I.A. Lonzo Ball — have benefitted from Hallam’s sharper image instincts as the team’s director of media relations.
That remarkable achievement is now over. Hallam has officially retired at age 67.
When Billy Donovan’s newest edition tips off its 2023-24 campaign, the former Illinois State relief pitcher will be idling as best he can.
No less than Jordan himself took time Friday to tell The Daily Herald: “It’s truly the end of an era. Tim was an unsung hero of our championship years. He had a tough job, and he did it very, very well, with great humor and professionalism. He had a tremendous run with the team. I wish him well.”
JORDAN DID MORE THAN merely wish Hallam well. During the pinnacle of their championship association (the three-peats of 1991-93 and 1996-98), he had a special ritual.
Every time the Bulls won another title, after each clinching game, No. 23 took off one of the shoes he wore and immediately autographed it to turn over to Hallam.
According to multiple sports memorabilia sources, that extraordinary sextet was sold privately by Sotheby’s this past spring. Estimates of its value began at “eight figures” and whistled up from there.
It was a long way from Bloomington-Normal. That’s where Hallam’s father — the late Professor James Hallam — was head of accounting curriculum at Illinois State.
Hallam was a very good reliever for the Redbirds. By his own scouting recall, he had, “good junk with a fastball that sometimes touched 18 miles an hour.”
IN THE SUMMER OF 1977, when Bulls spirits such as Norm Van Lier and Artis Gilmore were roaming the floor at Chicago Stadium, Hallam landed a job with the organization.
One year later, Brian McIntyre joined the media dream team. He left during the 1981-82 season to sign on with commissioner Larry O’Brien at NBA HQ in Manhattan.
When David Stern succeeded O’Brien, McIntyre’s stock rose even higher. He and Hallam would frequently be reunited in the 1990s, all because of the celestial Mr. Jordan.
“It’s impossible to understand all that Tim handled so magnificently in Chicago,” said McIntyre, who is also retired. “There was a front-office staff of about 10 when he started. Now it’s around 300 or so. And right as he was entering the prime of his career, there came Michael.”
IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN the many media tangents generated by the supernatural presence of the most popular theatrical champion in the history of the game. But it would take a 300-page book to even begin listing the table of contents.
The whole truth is that at point of entry, some very savvy NBA observers presumed Jordan would be consumed by the party intensity then rampant in the league. The Bulls were a rolling A-train of that glam-ball nightlifin’.
Instead, Jordan respectfully went his own way. He was also a very quick study regarding image maintenance. Along those lines, he had an impressive list of tour guides from Dean Smith to airborne agent David Falk to Phil Knight and his swooshing gold panners at Nike.
But night after night, flight after flight, Jordan’s lean-to guy in the daily media scrums was Hallam.
HALLAM’S APPROACH WAS SOPHISTICATED in its simplicity. Any credentialed newcomer was presumed to be professional until proven otherwise. The truly privileged got close enough to be kept in line by Hallam’s devastating wit.
The season before the arrival of Jordan, Hubie Brown — then coaching the Knicks — got pointedly annoyed with the sharp questioning of an Insouciant after a loss to Kevin Loughery’s phone-it-in Bulls.
(Two weeks before, in a fawning profile in Sports Illustrated, Brown called Loughery “a child” among NBA coaches.)
Within earshot of Hallam, Brown looked up at the writer and said, “What are you? The town bleep-off?”
For decades to follow, anytime Hallam needed to whiplash the writer, he’d parrot Brown’s micro-burst: “What are you? The town bleep-off? You are — Hubie was right.”
DURING THE ASCENT OF JORDAN, the same writer also had a recurring tendency to promise assorted bartoppers admission to home games and then forget about it.
Pregame, Hallam would be standing near the hallowed Gate 3½. The Insouciant would amble in. Hallam would speak:
“Did you promise some waitress from The Bella Inn four seats tonight? I covered you this time, Bud. They’re up in the back row of the hockey press box. Go up and say hello. And maybe next time, call ahead?”
JUST AS JORDAN WAS running out of steam after Championship No. 3 in 1993, so too was Hallam. After a Game 5 loss to Charles Barkley and the visiting Suns in the Finals that season, he expressed a sincere desire to go to work for John Mellencamp.
“I’m serious,” he said. “This stuff is great but it’s getting out of hand. I need a change.”
Instead, with tremendous support from Jerry Reinsdorf, he — like Jordan — got refreshed. Then the media demands of the second three-peat, when the addition of Dennis Rodman ushered in a whole extra cosmos of Crayola chroniclers, were nonsensical.
Hallam and staff handled all with unwavering fairness. The media vertical of those three springs might have been diverse. But there was never any question about what the prevailing rules of the house were.
And his career still had 25 years to run.
THE GREAT CHICAGO SPORTS CHAMPIONS of the past four decades have been fortunate to have nimble point people to handle media.
Ken Valdiserri and Bryan Harlan were tremendous with Mike Ditka and the Super Bowl Bears. Ditto for Scott Reifert and the 2005 White Sox and Peter Chase with the 2016 Cubs. Brandon Faber — once a protégé of Hallam with the Bulls — was supremely adroit enabling Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks to balance frenzied fan interest and focus on their successful pursuit of three Stanley Cups.
But the argument could be made that none had the extended unpredictabilities and eccentricities of the swirling global Air that Tim Hallam so deftly managed.
Maybe even David Spade was taking note.
Michael Jordan certainly was.
• Jim O’Donnell’s Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All communications may be considered for publication.