Cartwright will be signing autographs for fans between 6-6:45 PM on the Sears Centre Arena concourse and delivering a post-game testimony Saturday at Faith Night. The Chicago Bulls Championship Trophies will also be on display.
By Sam Smith
The Bulls players called him, “Teach,” the composed, analytical veteran who was the proverbial final piece for the championship puzzle that led, at least in Cartwright’s time, to the first three Bulls NBA titles. So it’s perhaps appropriate that the gentle seven footer with the sharp elbows is back on campus, Director of University Initiatives at his alma mater, the U. of San Francisco.
“I’m doing some fundraising,” said Cartwright. “I do community outreach, especially for the African-American community. We are having Jesse Jackson come to USF for Black History month. Alumni, student and student/athlete relations where we are attempting to bring back as many USF alums as possible and, more or less, reintroduce them to school and welcome them back to the family.”
Bill Cartwright has always been about family, growing up a hard working kid in a Sacramento area farming family of seven kids, harvesting those sugar beets on long, hot days. He was attracted to the U. of San Francisco for its homey atmosphere, and he’ll bring some of that to Hoffman Estates and the Windy City Bulls Saturday when the Bulls D-league team features Cartwright in its inaugural Faith Night.
Cartwright will be back in Chicago to meet with fans, sign autographs and speak at the Windy City game against the Erie Bayhawks. They feature former Curie High School star Cliff Alexander.
Though there weren’t many bigger high school stars than Cartwright, who led his Elk Grove High School and was the nation’s No. 1 high school player in 1975 and two-time California Player of the Year. He decided to stay near home at the U. of San Francisco, once a great basketball powerhouse where Bill Russell and K.C. Jones combined for back to back NCAA titles.
And now following a scandal ravaged period after Cartwright left and decades of mediocrity, Cartwright is back at the bucolic, urban campus where he walks to work to try to help carry his alma mater back to the pinnacle of college basketball.
“Our aim now is to be one of the better teams in the country and we have great examples of teams like Villanova winning, a small school, like Gonzaga consistently winning,” notes Cartwright. “Saint Marys is a top 20 school; we are not bounded by anything but thought and everyone on the same page.”
That’s sort of been a lifetime melody for Cartwright, a polished guitarist among his many eclectic hobbies.
He’s got a master’s degree in organizational development and has owned businesses as varied as restaurants, car dealerships and for background checks. He’s been an NBA head coach, and then one in Japan because, well, it sounded interesting and he’d never been there. His team made one of the top turnarounds in its league his year there. He later spent a summer working with the Mexican national team. He’s never met a conversation he wouldn’t enter or a subject he wouldn’t consider. His base was knowledge and his calling card was personal relations.
It was no surprise then that despite the initial reluctance with the Bulls because he was replacing the popular Charles Oakley, Cartwright became the final brick in the championship tower.
So when USF approached him about helping return its basketball program to past majesties, he could not demur.
“They made a position for me and it came at a good time,” said Cartwright, 59. “They are really wanting to get our athletics back to where it used to be; USF had a 30-year tradition of a very high level of play athletically. And since they dropped the program (in 1982), it’s been a struggle to get back to that same status. We have a new president, a new athletic director who are reemphasizing sports and I thought it would be a great time to come back to USF and do some of these things with them.
“Did they have the people in place before who were motivated to give you the tools to do that? That’s why it was attractive to be a part of it now,” said Cartwright. “Everyone is so positive about it and everyone has the same goal. Our past presidents did not have that goal; they were just happy to field a team and you guys do the best you can; if you finish in the middle of the pack we really don’t care.”
But while Cartwright is about comity, he’s also about excellence.
As one of the nation’s premier basketball recruits, he said he was deciding among UCLA, USC and USF.
“It was the smallest, but the most personable,” he said. “USF at that point in time was primarily made up of Bay Area and Northern California guys, truly a real family to where there was a real closeness. We had guys from other parts of the country, but basically the foundation of it was pretty local, a very strong feeling of family.”
That’s always been vital to Cartwright with four children of his own, several working in his businesses.
USF was a dynasty, the legendary Pete Newell coaching them to the 1949 NIT title when that was the nation’s top tournament. Then there was the Russell back to back titles and 15 conference championships between 1955 and 1981. Cartwright would become their alltime career scoring leader and go on to be the third pick in the 1980 NBA draft to the New York Knicks. Former Bulls like Wallace Bryant and Erwin Mueller played there along with NBAers like Kevin Restani and Phil Smith.
The program ran afoul of NCAA regulations with boosters out of control and after star basketball player Quintin Dailey, also to be a Bull, pleaded to an assault on a student nurse, school president John LoSchiano voluntarily shut down the program.
The program was reinstated in 1985, but with little support.
Cartwright went on to be traded to the Bulls in 1989 and play for the first three Bulls title teams. He finished his NBA career with Seattle in 1995 and was ready to follow his post career path to purchase fast food franchises.
“This was what I was doing,” said Cartwright. “I never really intended to coach. Jerry (Krause, Bulls general manager) called me up and asked me if I wanted to coach, so I felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing.”
Cartwright was a Bulls assistant under Phil Jackson on the last two title teams, and then under Tim Floyd. Cartwright replaced Floyd 27 games into the 2001-02 season with the experimental, young Bulls. He took them from 21 wins that season to 30 the next, but was fired 14 games into the following season when new general manager John Paxson opted for his own staff.
Cartwright then worked as an assistant for the Nets and then Suns, and then Suns big man’s coach when Steve Kerr took over as general manager. He then took stints in Japan and Mexico and when considering what was next about a year ago, along came USF in need of some assistance as well. And like everywhere that Cartwright has gone, things are looking up, and not just at him.
“For me,” says Cartwright, “this is just a part of the journey. I still have a lot of stuff to do.”