A celebration of Bulls t-shirts
And hats. And glasses. And everything else we all once had... and still do...
This is a newsletter celebrating Bulls gear. And boy, is there a lot of it. Scroll down and you’ll see a ton, like shirts, hats, shades, yearbooks, stadium chairs, even a footlocker — great stuff that readers tweeted to me this week.
But first, one of my own, which I found the morning of April 24, 2005, when I went into my old closet in search of a shirt.
I didn’t know what shirt. But this was my parents’ house, the place I’d lived from 1995 until I left for college in 2000. By that morning in 2005, that closet was nearly useless, since I’d spent five years tenderly jamming boxes in there, plus laundry bags filled with old clothes. You couldn’t find the walls if you had a week.
I had three hours.
That’s when the Chicago Bulls would play their first playoff game since the dynasty. My friend Ben and I had been gifted tickets. We were going. We would be there.
And then, in a laundry bag, I found it. Black. Tight. Slightly faded. Squeezing at the armpits. Perfect.
It was here! My Triple Threat t-shirt. This was a shirt my brother and I had each gotten around 1992, a template shirt made for multiple teams. My brother and I each had one. Here we are in ‘92 or ‘93, my brother in Triple Threat, me wearing my 1992 championship caricature shirt:
I don’t know if I found the one that was originally his or originally mine, but that’s the way it goes with old t-shirts, especially from the dynasty days: Most get lost. Some you purposefully save, because it’s the Dennis Rodman Tattoo Shirt, and you don’t throw out a thing like that.
But anything else that weaves its way through the decades is a matter of luck, or destiny, set to spring up in a laundry bag in a closet on the morning of Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first round battle against the Wizards.
And when that happens, you rock that shirt at the U.C. in all its armpit-hugging glory.
Among my many goals with this book is to bask in Bulls gear. The 90s Bulls were a fashion department unto themselves. It was impossible to be in or near Chicago at the time and not find your closets loaded with hoodies, hats, warmup jackets and boy oh boy, so many t-shirts.
As you’ll see as you scroll, it was impossible even if you were in Greece or Australia.
On Sunday, I put out the Bat Signal for photos of Bulls gear:
Here is some of the best stuff that people sent. Share yours in the comments, on Twitter, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s start with the championship shirts.
Here are Bill Cartwright and John Paxson modeling the ‘91 caricature shirt for a Carson Pirie Scott ad that ran in the Tribune (and presumably the Sun-Times) the day after the first championship. They did it again in 1992 and 1993.
You saw my ‘92 shirt above — here is my friend Camron Smith recently rocking his ‘92 shirt. This is my favorite of the caricature shirts, a step up from the ‘91 one with a greater emphasis on Bulls colors.
Here is the 1993 shirt, shared by @GhostofCubFans. I didn’t love this one, because of the shadow lines on the faces, but I appreciated that they included the guys who were left off the playoff roster: Corey Williams (lower left) and Ed Nealy (lower right).
Here I am in the 1996 shirt, which I thought was a nice return to form for the classic caricature look:
The 1997 shirt was the only one that was not caricature, which bothered me — but not as much as the fact that they left off Bill Wennington, who missed the playoffs due to injury. Here is a signed one, from Australian superfan, collector and Twitter threader Adam Howes:
The ‘98 shirt got back to the basics. I really like this look:
But the caricature fad wasn’t restricted to championships. Oh no! Here is a bizarre one from 1987, when the team felt like it was all MJ, after the departure of Woolridge and Gervin and before the arrival of Scottie and Horace. The “Only Jordan” vibe is on full display, (and here are two more Jordan gems from R.P. Bailey):
By 1989, the Bulls had a more proper lineup, and Chicago had “Bulls Fever.”
In the 1990-91 season, the Bulls acquired Nets scoring guard (15.8 PPG in 1990) Dennis Hopson as Jordan’s backup. The team was so high on him he landed on this shirt, as rocked here by reader Asa Jr., with a friend and Joakim Noah:
Reader Dimitris Ioannou built his collection while growing up in Greece, including this 1994 Bulls comics shirt:
A few years ago, my guy Ricky O’Donnell hipped me to another one-year-only caricature shirt — “Bang Gang,” (above) which celebrated the three centers from the 1994-’95 team. (Though, as he notes, he sadly did not own this.)
There were solo caricature shirts, like these of MJ and Scottie, shared by @duG_LA and @iamjoncastle:
Here is a Dennis Rodman one shared by @SirGuyGrande (who also shared his second three-peat warmup shirt here):
More from Dimitris here, here, here, here (“Drivin’ Towards a 70 Wins Season!”) — and then there’s this, which I love. I also love this ‘94-’95 yearbook from Reo Onishi, which had no Jordan — except in the ads.
A super fun aspect of the old gear hunt is the way it brings out our old photos, not just the shirts. Here is reader Alfonso R. at Brookfield Zoo in a ‘91 Finals shirt:
Basketball writer and podcaster Trey Kerby grew up in Plano, Illinois, and shared this photo of himself during the second three-peat in the “babies”-style shirt that became popular around this time:
Trey also sent one of my favorite hats — the horns hat from the first three-peat.
Neerav Umarwadia sent this shot from around the summer of ‘92 of his mother Nomita rocking a ‘92 shirt and these shades:
There is so much great stuff out there, including much more from the aforementioned Howes — and this McDonald’s Rodman cup where the hair changed colors with cold drinks.
But there is some stuff that no one has — or anyhow, no one who wasn’t a Bulls ballboy. That’s former Bulls ballboy Chris Mott in champagne-soaked, autographed shirts from the 1996 and 1997 locker room celebrations.
Chris’s story is incredible — and it’s coming to the newsletter Monday.
Upgrade now to a paid subscription and read about Chris’s time working the entire second three-peat, when he was a guest on Oprah, hung out with Billy Corgan and became friends with Scottie Pippen, attending his 1997 wedding.
Gift subscriptions are perfect for friends, but especially for children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews as you introduce them to the greatest team we’ve ever known.
I hope everyone is staying healthy and happy during these strange times. Be well!
*** UPDATE: JULY 26, 2022 ***
My Bulls merch thread has had many updates since 2020, most recently this game-day pin that Chicago writer Parker Molloy sent me today, which she received as a fan giveaway for the final regular season Bulls game at Chicago Stadium:
Scroll up from her tweet to see more great shirts, hats, mugs — including incredible pieces from three-time champ Scott Williams!
And by all means, send me more photos of your stuff! Either tweet it to me, DM me, comment here or email me at email@example.com. Thanks all!