A basketball player’s effort and hustle are valued traits, but they aren’t something that can always be quantified.
Standard box scores show the obviously important statistics of things like points scored and rebounds grabbed. But there are no categories for hustle plays like diving for loose balls.
Or at least, these activities weren’t formally tracked by the NBA until recently, starting with the 2016 playoffs.
At the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, the NBA awarded the inaugural Hustle Award to Patrick Beverly — then with the Houston Rockets. The NBA describes it as an honor that “rewards players that do the little things that don’t often show up in the traditional box score.” Furthermore, the Hustle Award “honors the player that makes the energy and effort plays to help his team win throughout the season.”
Among the “Hustle Stats” that the NBA tracks and considers when determining the award’s winner are box outs, charges drawn, contested shots, deflections, loose balls recovered and screen assists.
On Wednesday, Thaddeus Young became the first Chicago Bulls player to be honored with the award.
In an article from NBC Sports Chicago’s Rob Schaefer, Young admitted that he was unaware that such an honor existed in the league, but he expressed gratitude for it:
“I’m definitely appreciative of the award and hyped that I’m able to get an award that symbolizes who I am.”
Given the new nature of the award, only five players have ever received the honor. Chicago loves its hard-nosed, blue-collar players, and the Bulls franchise has had its fair share of players who fit that mold. So it isn’t out of the question to think that other Bulls could’ve earned the honor if it were awarded sooner.
Here are some former Bulls who deserve recognition for their hustle and would’ve been likely candidates for the NBA’s Hustle Award should it have existed during their careers:
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If just one Bull in franchise history deserved to be recognized for their hustle, then the original Mr. Bull would be it.
A member of the inaugural Bulls team, Sloan helped set the tone for the direction of the franchise with his aggressive defense and toughness. As Ben Dowsett of Forbes put it, Sloan “would be considered tenacious in today’s game.
“He was something else altogether in his era. He didn’t just take charges; he leaned in to accentuate the contact.”
Had the Hustle Award existed back then and been given to Sloan, though, chances are he wouldn’t have thought too much of it.
As noted by the Chicago Tribune, Sloan offered the following words after the announcement his No. 4 jersey would be retired by the Bulls:
“Why should a guy be rewarded for giving 100 percent at his job? Everybody’s supposed to do that.”
When Dennis Rodman comes to the minds of Bulls fans — and basketball fans in general — the following photo is likely one of the first things that’s thought of. And that alone would be enough to epitomize the hustle he displayed on the basketball court:
Arguably the most well-known and iconic photo of Rodman, the photographer who captured it, Sam Forencich, told NBA Global that it “really symbolizes the effort, excellence and athleticism” of the former Bulls forward. Size, strength and talent are important, but Rodman wouldn’t have been the rebounding machine he was if not for the hustle he gave while on the court.
Hustle was not only one of Kirk Hinrich’s defining traits as a professional basketball player, but it was also one of the traits that made him valuable enough to have had a 13-season long career in the NBA.
Hinrich had two stints with the Bulls, spanning the course of 10.5 seasons. Despite being the franchise leader in 3-pointers, fans know him best for his gritty play and effort. Even later in his career, Captain Kirk continued to be the player who would dive for loose balls, take charges and sacrifice his body in an effort to help the Bulls win. It’s what made him a fan favorite.
Bulls fans are familiar with the numerous catchphrases and sayings that Stacey King, former Bull and current TV color commentator for Bulls games, has come up with over the years. One of King’s many popular phrases is “heart, hustle, and muscle,” and perhaps no Bull has epitomized that more than Joakim Noah — at least since the phrase was coined.
Noah gave a glimpse of the hustle player he’d become known as in the NBA during triple overtime of game 6 in the Bulls’ 2009 first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics. The steal and slam from the big man has become one of the most iconic plays in his career.
Noah became a fan favorite because of his unmatched energy and defensive effort. King has even previously compared Noah to Rodman, calling him a “modern day Dennis Rodman” while on The Danny Mac Show in 2011.