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Bill Cartwright




Bill Cartwright led a fascinating life in basketball. As one of the finest products to ever come out of the Sacramento area, he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, whether it was winning back-to-back state titles at Elk Grove High School or raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy high above his head five times as a Chicago Bull, Bill Cartwright's fingers could only grow weary from wearing all of those championship rings. This is his story.


The Early Years


James William "Bill" Cartwright was born on July 30, 1957 in Lodi, California, a suburb of Sacramento. He had always been tall and naturally took to the sport of basketball. He flourished at Elk Grove High School, leading the team to an undefeated season as a junior in 1973-1974.


In those days, California didn't have a state championship game in high school basketball, but they did have rankings and thus awarded the Eagles the state's top rank that year as well as the following year. Cartwright earned the state Basketball Player of the Year award. He was even named Mr. Basketball USA as a senior as he headed to San Francisco to play for the Dons.



His star continued to rise in the City by the Bay as he led the Dons to three straight NCAA Tournaments. However, despite scoring as much as 24.5 points per game as a senior in 1979, he never went beyond the Sweet 16. After losing to UCLA 99-81 in the 1979 Sweet 16 and with a Bachelors degree in sociology in hand, Bill Cartwright was drafted third overall by the New York Knicks.


New York



From the very beginning, the center from Lodi was a sight for sore eyes in the Big Apple. As a rookie, Bill Cartwright 21.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and two assists on his way to his lone All-Star game. From there, his scoring output dwindled and he would never again score as much as he did in the 1979-1980 season.


After averaging 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in his sophomore campaign, Cartwright's Knicks were swept in two games to the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1981 playoffs. Two years later, they found brief redemption by sweeping the New Jersey Nets in two games. Their joy was short-lived, however, as the Knicks were swept by the eventual champion Philadelphia 76ers in the next round.


The following year, the Knicks made a valiant effort against the mighty Boston Celtics. While the series was ultimately a battle between future Hall of Famers Bernard King and Larry Bird, Bill Cartwright managed to lead both teams with 25 points in a 100-92 Game 3 win to cut Boston's lead in half. But despite their best efforts, the Knicks fell to the eventual champs in seven games.


The Knicks failed to reach the playoffs for the next four years and when they returned, they were met with a familiar fate, a loss to the Celtics in the first round. Bill Cartwright was traded to the Bulls that offseason where his life would change forever.


Chicago



Ever since Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984, the Chicago Bulls had been clawing their way to their first championship. By adding Bill Cartwright to the roster, Chicago not only beefed up the roster, they added a consistent rebounder that could give the Bulls valuable scoring opportunities.


While he had left New York averaging 11.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in his last year as a Knick, Bill Cartwright seemed rejuvenated in the Windy City, averaging 12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds a game as the team marched towards its annual letdown in Detroit to end the season.


While it was a tough battle, the Bulls lost to the Pistons in seven games to end the Eastern Conference Finals. Although the Bulls lost, they were not defeated. Instead, they were hungrier than ever to reach the NBA Finals.



Everything lined up perfectly for the Bulls in 1990-1991. Michael Jordan finally embraced every nuance of coach Phil Jackson's newfangled Triangle Offense and earned the second league MVP of his career while leading his team to the NBA's best record.


There was a look of determination in their eyes as the playoffs began. Down went the Knicks and down went the 76ers all the while the Pistons loomed in the distance, awaiting for their annual clash. Unlike their previous clashes, this one was anticlimactic, with the Bulls beating the two-time defending NBA Finals champions in a four game sweep to clinch their first trip to the NBA Finals.


Although the Bulls lost to the Lakers in the first game, they quickly rebounded and won the next four. Bill Cartwright held his own in the series but never scored more than 12 points in any of the five games.


Over the next two years, the Bulls would continue to dominate the NBA, winning two more titles while Bill Cartwright's time on the floor continued to dwindle. The 1991-1992 season was his last as a full-time starter. Coming off the bench the following year, he contributed 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for the soon-to-be three-time champion Chicago Bulls.


He was traded to the Seattle Supersonics two years later where he remained in squaller for a single season before retiring. But Bill Cartwright's life in basketball was far from over.


The Coach




Bill Cartwright spent a year learning the ropes before entering the coaching world and was quickly scooped up by the Chicago Bulls to coach their centers in 1996. They were coming off one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, having gone 72-10 before winning it all the year before. But they saw something in the old center who had never even attempted a three-pointer as a player.


His first crop of pupils was a mixture of youth and experience. Led by the talents of Luc Longley and Bison Dele, the Bulls centers were reinforced with the grizzled minds of Robert Parish and Bill Wennington. Cartwright's words of wisdom worked for his centers as the Bulls went on to win the next two NBA championships.


He stayed in Chicago after the gleam of the Larry O'Brien Trophy began to fade. When both Tim Floyd and Bill Berry failed to pan out, Bill Cartwright stepped to the plate and was named the Bulls head coach for the rest of the 2001-2002 season. The Bulls finished the season with a 17-38 record and didn't fare much better the following year, going 30-52. After beginning 2003-2004 4-10, Bill Cartwright was fired in the middle of the season.


Cartwright quickly picked up work in New Jersey, becoming the centers coach for the Nets in 2004. After staying in that role until 2008, he went to Phoenix where one of the NBA's all-time great centers resided: Shaquille O'Neal. However, he only spent one year with Shaq as the great big man left for Cleveland the following year. While the Suns failed to make the playoffs that first year, they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 where they lost in six games to the Lakers.


Bill Cartwright stayed in Phoenix through 2012 then left for Japan where he served as the head coach of the Osaka Evessa. He was let go after going 15-6 in 2013. He returned to the Bay Area soon after and began serving as USF's director of university initiatives in 2016.




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