Sports

Former Johnnie Lived Through ‘The Last Dance’

Former St. John’s basketball player Bill Wennington was part of the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the late 1990s recently featured in ESPN’s “The Last Dance.” (Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletic Communications)

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” recently captivated sports fans, especially at times during this pandemic where we longed for any type of sports on television. Hearing the riveting stories of the great Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates was a much-needed distraction from COVID-19.

One of Jordan’s teammates — Bill Wennington — is a St. John’s University, Jamaica, graduate who was featured prominently in the documentary. As part of a WebEx afternoon chat on June 9 hosted by the St. John’s Athletics Red and White Club, Wennington joined Red Storm athletic director Mike Cragg and head men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson to talk about “The Last Dance.”

Born in Montreal, the 7-foot center attended Long Island Lutheran H.S., Brookville. His college decision came down to St. John’s or the powerhouse Duke University, Durham, N.C. He chose to stay closer to home for the Johnnies — a decision he says is one of the best of his life.

From 1981-1985, Wennington played for the legendary coach Lou Carnesecca and with some top-notch teammates, including Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson and Walter Berry. The ’85 team reached the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four after finishing the regular season 31-4. Wennington earned First Team All-Big East honors that season as senior.

The Dallas Mavericks selected him as the 16th overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft. After stints with the Mavs, Sacramento Kings and a professional team in Italy, he signed as a free agent with the Bulls in 1993 — right after the team won its third consecutive championship. Wennington was then part of the Bulls’ second title three-peat from 1996-1998 — the final year of which was deemed the “The Last Dance” by head coach Phil Jackson.

“If you watched ‘The Last Dance,’ you understood what Michael (Jordan) was trying to do,” said Wennington, 57. “Michael was the most talented player on that team, but he was also one of the hardest working players. To win, you can’t just be talented. You have work hard. That’s something that I started to learn in high school and was reinforced when I was at St. John’s.”

He said playing with Mullin especially allowed him to be ready for an NBA career. Mullin used to hold his own practices with his teammates after their regularly scheduled practices, which helped the team get even better.

“Michael knew that he couldn’t do it by himself,” Wennington said. “I’m very proud that I got to
play with someone like Chris Mullin at St. John’s. It definitely prepared me to play with the Bulls and Michael.”

One of the things Wennington said could have been portrayed more accurately in the documentary was how well the late ’90s Bulls got along with each other.

“Michael was concerned that he’d be viewed as a tyrant,” Wennington said. “He was tough on players. He was tough on me. If we weren’t there to do our job and we weren’t willing to put in 100 percent effort every time we stepped on the floor, he wasn’t going to put up with it.

“At the same time, he was a great teammate. In the documentary, you see Michael being hard on guys, but you don’t see him in the locker room afterwards kidding with the guys. It was fun to be in that locker room. He really just loved the game of basketball and really was committed to it and having fun doing it.”

These days, Wennington — a member of the Canadian and Quebec Basketball Halls of Fame — lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago and works as a radio color analyst for Bulls games. His basketball journey that started at St. John’s led him on an amazing ride as a member of one of the greatest teams to ever play the game.

“I’ve been very blessed in my life, and I owe a lot of that to St. John’s,” he said. “The teachings that the Vincentians taught me … the basketball is really secondary to all of it.”


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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