The Tallest Tale from ‘The Last Dance’ Training Camp
Eric Gingold has some stories about Michael Jordan from the two training camps he spent with the Chicago Bulls during their second three-peat of NBA championships. But there’s one, in particular, that he’s hesitant to share. It comes with, perhaps, a bit of embarrassment—not for Eric, but rather for His Airness.
“Is he gonna get upset?” Eric asks while speaking with CloseUp360. “Am I gonna get sued?”
Eric is a practicing attorney and a partner in a law firm, so even if MJ took legal action against him, odds are, he could defend himself, just as he did during his first tour with the Bulls in 1996.
One day, a squad of rookies, with Eric at center, was scrimmaging against Chicago’s starters, including Michael, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. That group was coming off what was (and might still be) the greatest campaign in NBA history: a then-record 72 wins during the regular season followed by a fourth title in six years.
Michael, as was his wont, was parading to the basket as if it were Grant Park after another Finals triumph in June. But on one attempt in particular, MJ ran into some unexpected resistance. As he rose up for an otherwise routine finish, his shot was swatted away by this 7’4” neophyte who had barely played Division III college basketball.
“I blocked his shot one time and he gave me an elbow down the floor,” Eric says of his denial of the GOAT. “Not a hard or cheap foul or anything like that, but an elbow to let you know, like, ‘What are you doing?’
“It was the greatest moment of my life. It was the greatest moment of my basketball career.”
It was a moment that—with those Bulls teams fresh in the minds of millions, courtesy of ESPN and Netflix’s blockbuster docuseries, The Last Dance—still resonates with Eric, more than two decades removed from his life as an athlete. It was the pinnacle of an improbable journey that saw its protagonist cross paths with legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Patrick Ewing and Yao Ming.
If it weren’t a true story, it might sound like another tall tale, and not just because of the literal giant in the middle of it all.
Eric Gingold competed in training camp with the Chicago Bulls in 1996 and 1997. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
For most of his youth, Eric lived a relatively unremarkable life. He grew up in a middle-class family in North Caldwell, New Jersey. With a 6’6” father and a 5’9” mother, Eric and his sister were projected to be tall, and almost certainly above average height for Jewish kids.
Though Eric grew up watching and rooting for the New York Knicks during the Patrick Ewing era, he channeled his sporting energy and attention into football. By junior high, he was already head and shoulders above the competition, literally. That, along with the 200 pounds or so that he carried, suited him well as an offensive lineman.
“If you're like six feet, I mean, you're big for junior high,” he says, “but you're not too big to play football as a big kid.”
Then came high school. Whatever husk Eric had was summarily spread across a frame that quickly sprouted towards 6’11”. The Gingolds feared injury for their beanpole-of-a-son on the field and struggled to project him as a pro football player. So they moved him to Gill St. Bernard’s School, a private college preparatory school in Gladstone, New Jersey, that was so small, it didn’t even field a football team.
With the gridiron out of the picture, and his grades still intact, Eric turned his attention to basketball. Despite his height, he was anything but a natural on the hardwood. He was slow afoot and rendered with both a lack of strength and poor coordination by his extraordinary growth spurts. Eric may have sniffed seven feet, but he couldn’t dunk.
All of which meant, during his lone season of varsity basketball as a senior, Eric barely played. Nonetheless, his combination of size and scholastic aptitude made him a target for recruiters from more academically-focused colleges and universities, including some in the Ivy League.
“I visited with some of those schools and I thought to myself, I'm not there, I don't know if I'll be there and I don't really want to spend four years in school just sitting on a bench watching other people play,” he says. “And so I thought, Going to a small school would be better off, but I still didn't know how to play very well.”
Eric decided to attend Williams College, which competed in Division III. But before he shipped up to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to begin his collegiate career in the fall of 1991, Eric spent a summer sharpening his skills on New York City’s famed blacktop courts, as well as some in his home state of New Jersey.
The West Fourth Street Courts, better known as “The Cage.” Gun Hill up in the Bronx. Rucker Park in Harlem.
At these runs around the Big Apple, Eric got to play with—and, more importantly, study —legends of the game. Those included NBA All-Star World B. Free, former top-10 pick Mike Bantom and Floyd Layne, who had starred on championship teams at The City College of New York that were implicated in a point-shaving scandal that rocked college basketball during the 1950s.
“I got to learn from some really good players right away at a level that was pretty high for someone that didn't really know what he was doing,” Eric says.
For all that he’d absorbed from his time on hallowed ground in the tristate area, Eric struggled to break through at Williams. During his first three years there, he compiled a grand total of 31 points and 36 rebounds in 30 games.
This, despite—or, perhaps, because of—adding another five inches and 75 pounds to his body over that time, as he shot up to 7’4”.
“When you're growing that much, it's pretty hard [to play basketball],” he says. “You become coordinated very late.”
The Ephs, meanwhile, didn’t have much leeway to develop a project like Eric. They were too busy winning 20 games or more per season in the “Little Ivy League.”
Late bloomer or no, Eric’s peculiarities remained irrepressible, if unwittingly so. The National Jewish Post & Opinion dubbed him the tallest Jew to ever play college basketball. That citation found its way into Michael Jaffe’s writeup of the Ephs’ basketball team for Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1993, which, in turn, caught the attention of Larry Gilman, a former coach at East Carolina University who’d gotten into training and representing players.
After reading about Eric, Larry reached out. He wanted to help mold this tower of clay into a capable basketball player. During the summer of 1994, Larry ran Eric through two-a-day workouts to refine his footwork and develop his shooting ability with both hands, and pitted him against Yinka Dare, who would become the No. 14 pick of the New Jersey Nets in that year’s NBA draft.
Larry also spoke with Gale Catlett, then the coach at West Virginia University, about letting Eric walk on to the Mountaineers’ men’s basketball team, which, at the time, competed in the Atlantic 10 Conference of Division I. One of West Virginia’s centers had been injured in a car accident, so the addition of another big body would come in handy.
But not before Eric ran into trouble of his own on the road.
Larry Gilman started working with Eric after reading about him in Sports Illustrated. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
As ruthless as Michael Jordan could be both on and off the court, perhaps Eric’s most prized memory of his time around His Airness (aside from the aforementioned block) was one of kindness and grace.
After a particular practice during the Bulls’ training camp at the Berto Center in 1996, Michael asked to have a word with Eric. The young, unknown big man had been taking his licks as a self-described “practice dummy,” particularly against Dennis Rodman, but it was another blow from which Eric bounced back that Michael wanted to discuss.
“I was playing golf with a couple of guys this weekend,” Michael told him, “and I heard about your accident.”
Eric, stunned to hear from this otherwise mythical figure whom he’d watched destroy his hometown Knicks on television, responded simply, “Yeah.”
“That's great that you're here with us,” Michael said. “It's great that you made it back for this. That's great. Thanks.”
“It was another greatest moment of my life. I'm still talking about it. It's [almost] 25 years later,” Eric says now. “That's the kind of guy he was. If he talked to you, and he said something that was nice or you were able to do something against him, that you would take for granted against anyone else in the world, that would be a momentous occasion in your life.”
That Eric was playing basketball at all—much less fielding pleasantries from the most famous person on Earth while competing for a spot on arguably the greatest team of all time—was nothing short of remarkable, if not downright miraculous.
In September 1994, Eric was driving in his Nissan Pathfinder, his West Virginia teammate Zain Shaw in the passenger’s seat, en route to New Jersey. The big man was ebullient as he coasted along I-70 near Baltimore, heading home for Labor Day Weekend. He had just completed three weeks of scrimmages with his soon-to-be Mountaineers teammates, ahead of his redshirt year.
Suddenly, a van swerved in front of Eric’s Pathfinder, jammed on its brakes, spun out of control and slammed into his vehicle. When Eric came to, he found himself bloodied and trapped by the door. Zain had escaped with minor injuries and rushed out to summon the paramedics, who had to use the Jaws of Life to excise Eric from the mangled mess of metal that his car had become.
His body wasn’t in much better shape. Eric had a cracked hip and a left femur that had been shattered into a dozen pieces. At his size, he had to be airlifted to nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Over the ensuing months, Eric underwent nine surgeries, 11 blood transfusions and three weeks of severe postoperative complications while splitting time between the trauma center at Johns Hopkins, the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey and St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center of New York, where his father, Dr. Bruce Gingold, was a colorectal surgery specialist. Eric had to have a metal plate placed into his hip and a rod into his leg. Then, through hours upon hours of grueling physical therapy, he had to learn to walk again, step by agonizing step.
“You're just trying to accomplish one small task that day,” Eric says. “And over time, that leads to a dramatic improvement.”
Looking back, Eric sees his basketball career in much the same way. But at that time, getting back to playing a game at which he was, in many respects still a novice, was a long way off.
Walking, though, he could figure out. He progressed from riding in a wheelchair to crawling along parallel bars to walking with a cane. By the spring of 1995, he still had months of rehab ahead, but felt he had the diligence and discipline to keep progressing on his own.
He thought to himself, There's no reason for me to do this here. I know what I'm doing. I've been doing this for months. I know the exercises. I know how to get better.
“I took off,” Eric says.
He and his cousin, Brad, bought around-the-world tickets, which would allow them to travel freely and book as many flights as they pleased, so long as they continued to move in a general direction across the globe. They started in Los Angeles and headed west to Hawaii. From Hawaii, they hopped to Australia, then to points around Asia and Africa before traveling through the Middle East, by way of Egypt and Israel, to Europe, all over the course of six months.
“Basically,” Eric says, “it was the journey until the money ran out.”
Wherever they went, Eric continued to rehab on his own, with diligence and discipline. In time, he ditched the cane and started walking on his own. Then, he started running, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of his destinations all the while.
“All of a sudden, rehab didn't become such a slavery,” he says. “Rehab became an opportunity.”
Eric’s condition continued to improve upon returning to the U.S., though he’d need a number of weeks and months more before he’d be able to play at a high level. So, rather than return to West Virginia, he transferred back to Williams to complete his degree in economics.
Along the way, he resumed his workouts with Larry—first to get back to where he was as a player, then to go further. Eric was back to playing pickup games within a year of the accident, but had to undergo another operation to remove bone spurs that had developed in his hip.
In time, though, Eric regained the soft shooting touch and deft footwork that Larry had drilled into him previously. Sure enough, word got around to NBA scouts about a skilled 7’3” center who would be available in an otherwise guard-heavy draft in 1996. Soon, those scouts were showing up in Newtown, Connecticut, where Eric was working out with Larry, to see for themselves.
“Sitting in my hospital bed,” Eric says, “I don't think I would have thought for a second that I would ever make it as far as I did.”
Eric rebounded from a devastating car accident to play preseason basketball with the Chicago Bulls. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
Before he ever suited up alongside MJ in a Bulls training camp, Eric briefly roomed in Chicago with a kid who would become basketball’s closest heir to Air Jordan.
Eric had known of Kobe Bryant back when the Black Mamba was a cocksure teenaged sensation in Philadelphia. At one point, Kobe’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, had recruited Eric to play at La Salle University, where Joe was an assistant coach.
In Chicago, Eric caught his first glimpses of the phenomenon that Kobe would become. Fielding calls from Kobe’s prom date, the singer Brandy, was one thing, but watching the 17-year-old soar across the court with his now-signature fearlessness and ferocity was something else.
“He just wanted to play,” Eric says. “He just wanted to show the world how awesome he was.”
The two crossed paths again during the pre-draft process, when they both worked out for the Knicks. Once again, Eric was witness to a special display of a superstar in the making.
“We would run down the floor and he would take off, and the backboard would be shaking for the next minute,” Eric says. “We'd have to wait for it to calm down before we could start the next play. It was crazy, this kid's athleticism.”
MJ, on the other hand, wasn’t quite that caliber of acrobat by the time Eric arrived at the Berto Center towards the end of summer in 1996.
Despite scouts showing interest in his combination of size and skills—not to mention, respect for his journey back from a devastating injury—Eric went undrafted. As far as he’d come, he was still a raw prospect, a long-term project with near-term concerns about how his body would withstand the pounding of playing professional basketball at the highest level.
The Bulls didn’t seem to have much need for another young big either. That year, they spent their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) on Travis Knight, a slender seven-footer from the University of Connecticut.
Less than three weeks later, Chicago released Travis. Between the hefty raises they owed to Michael, Dennis and Phil Jackson and the depth they had at center, with the aging Robert Parish joining Luc Longley and Bill Wennington up front, the Bulls had neither the budget nor the immediate opportunity for Travis. As Eric understood it, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause wanted to stash Travis on a team in Europe, but Travis felt he was ready to play in the NBA. So Chicago released him. (He subsequently joined the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he was named to the All-Rookie Second Team in 1997 and won a championship in 2000.)
That departure opened up a spot on the Bulls’ training camp roster for Eric, who had played summer league ball with the Toronto Raptors that offseason. His odds of surviving the preseason cuts were no better than Travis’—and were considerably worse, in the absence of a guaranteed contract—but after all he’d endured just to get back on the court, and how little basketball he’d played at all, Eric was more than happy to be around the defending champs in whatever capacity he could.
Not that Eric was just some gawking pushover. During one day of round-robin scrimmages, in particular, Eric and the rookies earned victories over the more seasoned squads, including Michael, Scottie, Dennis and the rest of the Bulls’ starting five.
After practice, as the team cooled off in the locker room, MJ was still hot, and made sure everyone knew it.
“Michael went off on everybody,” Eric says. “Michael was screaming at everybody on the team. Like, ‘How dare you let the rookies, these kids win’ and ‘this is embarrassing’ and ‘this should never happen.’
“And, you know, we were, of course, all right there, not saying a blessed thing. We were all scared we were gonna get fired or something.”
Eric and the rest of the rookies did their best to keep a low profile. They waited to celebrate their wins until after they had left the Berto Center, with MJ and the more veteran Bulls out of sight.
Still, there was only so much they could do to escape the wrath of His Airness.
“The next day, we came back, and we ran another round robin,” Eric says, “and MJ didn't let the rookies score.”
As the big man on the rookie squad, Eric dutifully ran down the floor ahead of the ball on offense. But the ball rarely made it past half court, thanks to Michael’s suffocating, one-man press. If MJ wasn’t hounding the ball-handler for steals directly, he was jumping into passing lanes to seize the rock mid-air.
A minute into the scrimmage, with the rookies already down 10-0, Phil blew the whistle to stop practice.
“The rookies need to play with Scottie Pippen today,” Phil said. “MJ's not gonna let you guys play.”
“That was unbelievable,” Eric says now.
Eric got an invitation to Bulls training camp in 1996 after the team parted ways with first-round pick Travis Knight. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
The Bulls saw potential in Eric’s size and skill in 1996, but not enough to clear a regular-season roster spot for him. They wanted him to keep working on his skills and his footspeed, so they sent him to the Continental Basketball Association to play for the Rockford Lightning.
“Rockford, Illinois, was a rough place to go from the Chicago Bulls,” Eric says. “It's a big step down.”
That was doubly true for a big man like Eric. Where the NBA was still the land of giants, the CBA was a guard’s league, with pace taking precedence over interior prowess and ball control.
Nonetheless, Eric went down to Rockford with the directive to stay in shape. Mere weeks after his arrival, the Bulls called—not to offer him a contract, but rather to set him up with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s pre-eminent basketball club and a regular participant in the vaunted EuroLeague. With his Jewish heritage, Eric was eligible to make aliyah, the practice of Jews long ago displaced by the diaspora returning to their cultural homeland. That, in turn, would put him on the fast track to Israeli citizenship and allow Maccabi to roster him as a domestic player, without sacrificing one of the precious few spots they were allowed for imports.
Eric played sparingly in Israel, totaling 10 points in five regular-season appearances and going scoreless in six playoff games. Even so, he won a league title in Tel Aviv, and made a good enough impression that Maccabi expressed interest in signing him to a long-term contract.
Though he was flattered, Eric ultimately declined to stay in Tel Aviv. When the Bulls set him up in Israel, they did so with the express purpose of bringing him back to Chicago for another go-round in training camp. Eric, for his part, felt it was his duty to return, given all that the Bulls had done to help him continue his fledgling basketball career.
So Eric returned to the U.S. He spent the summer of 1997 training with Bill Cartwright, who had played center during Chicago’s first three-peat and joined Phil’s coaching staff for what would become the second. Eric spent the first part of the summer working out in Sacramento, where Bill was based. After playing in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league with the Bulls, Eric went back to Illinois to continue his offseason work at the Berto Center in Deerfield.
“That was an opportunity I couldn't pass up,” Eric says.
The catch? The team told him that it couldn’t offer him room and board due to league rules. At that point, he couldn’t afford to rent out a hotel room for months at a time.
Fortunately, Eric had befriended some of the locals during Chicago’s training camp in 1996, including the owner of a tanning salon in a strip mall across the street from the Berto Center.
“You get to know everybody in that town,” Eric says, “because it's just not that big of a town.”
The owner made Eric an offer: so long as he helped when the salon was short-staffed and was otherwise out of the store before customers arrived, he could sleep on the floor—not exactly cozy accommodations, much less for someone who stood at 7’3”.
“But, you know, early 20s, and you get to play with the Bulls every day,” Eric says, “it wasn't that big of a sacrifice.”
All that discomfort was well worth it for Eric. There he was, still a relative basketball novice, training alongside and learning from Steve Kerr, who frequently worked out with former Chicago sharpshooter John Paxson, and Will Perdue, another ex-Bull who was part of the first three-peat.
“They were amazing,” Eric says. “Just to pick up some tidbits [about basketball] from them was awesome.”
He also had access to the team’s strength coaches, who taught him how to lift and helped him build up his body even further. All of that—in addition to his familiarity with the Bulls’ players, coaches and triangle offense—would give Eric the advantage he’d need to secure a spot on the Bulls’ roster for “The Last Dance” in 1997-98.
Or so he thought.
After his first training camp with the Bulls, Eric (No. 14) spent most of the 1996-97 season with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
On the final day of their preseason camp in 1996, the Bulls sent Eric packing with plenty of positivity. They advised him on areas for improvement and laid out a plan that included what would become stints in the CBA and Europe.
“The second year was not as positive,” Eric says.
Where Phil had previously complimented Eric on his progress, in 1997, the Zen Master didn’t pull any proverbial punches. He knew Eric had put in the work, which made it all the more disconcerting that the big man was moving slower than he had been in 1996. That wouldn’t cut it, and neither would Eric.
“I don't think you can keep up to play at this level,” Phil told him.
“That was a rough pill to swallow,” Eric says now.
Phil wasn’t entirely discouraging, though. He knew Eric had gone to a good school and come away with a quality education. He saw, in Eric, an intelligent young man with a bright future, with or without pro basketball.
“I know you could do lots of other things,” Phil told him. “Keep that in mind. This is not going to be the story for you.”
Eric thanked Phil for his time and Jerry for the opportunity. They offered to set him up in Rockford again, and he accepted.
This time, though, there was no expectation that the Bulls would seek out a gig for him overseas. Instead, there were three-a-day practices with the Lightning. That regimen didn’t sit well with Eric’s body.
“We were going at it to be one of the fastest running teams,” he says, “and I'm a big, seven-foot-plus, 300-pound guy with a bum leg.”
Amid the breakneck pace and intensity of training camp in Rockford, Eric started dealing with more and more discomfort in his surgically reconstructed left leg. By the time the season started, he was taking a host of medications, icing down his leg—whatever he could do to dull the pain.
“I was really concerned I was going to end up with a permanent injury,” Eric says.
Rather than let the team doctor determine his fate, Eric left Rockford to consult with his surgeon at Johns Hopkins.
“It is what it is,” the surgeon told him. “You have a debilitating injury. There's no getting around it. You're trying to play at the highest level there is, and you're one of the biggest guys there is. So, you do the math.
“One of those things is going to have to give.”
If Eric kept playing, he would likely develop a limp that would worsen over time. If he competed for long enough, he would almost certainly need a hip replacement. And since people of his size and stature were so rare, he would need a customized mold for that replacement. Like Phil, the surgeon encouraged him to start considering other career paths.
Eric decided he would go to law school, but wanted to get back to playing basketball once his leg had healed. He took some time away from the game to let his body recover. During that layoff, he scored well enough on the LSAT to get admitted to the Emory University School of Law. He consulted with the dean of the law school, who told him that if he finished his core requirements in two years, instead of the usual three, on campus in Atlanta, he could take his elective courses anywhere in the world, so long as Emory accepted the credits and Eric finished up his schooling in six years.
“He didn't think it'd ever been done before,” Eric says, “so he thought, Hey, why not? This is great. If you want to do it and you can do it, go for it.”
Eric, meanwhile, was no stranger to hard work. He spent two years doubling up on law classes at Emory before resuming his athletic career overseas. To stay in shape, he continued working out on the side. And when he went back to the tristate area in the summers, he fell back into his role as an NBA practice dummy—this time, for Patrick Ewing and his backup on the Knicks, Herb Williams.
“[Patrick] played every day. It was the summer, there was no reason for him to be there, and he would play and it was unbelievable,” Eric says. “I mean, he had a shot that just if you took your eye off him for a millisecond, the shot was gonna go up and it was gonna go in.”
Once Eric wrapped up his two years at Emory, he had little trouble finding gainful employment on the court. After all, he was still 7’3”, with dual citizenship to boot.
Eric played in South America and Russia, Poland and Belgium. He competed for the U.S. national team at the Maccabiah Games (i.e. the Jewish Olympics) and nearly reached the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney...as a handball player, on a recommendation from a law school friend who was the goalie on the American team.
“He asked me if I wanted to play and I said, ‘I don't know what team handball is,’” Eric says, “and he explained to me the rules, showed me a video and I said, ‘I still don't know what it is, but if you want me to play, I'll try.’
“And so we went to West Point, where I played in a tournament for this team, and I guess that was my tryout.”
He crossed paths with a young Yao Ming in the Chinese Basketball Association, and teamed up on Sun Rockers Shibuya in Japan with David Benoit, a former NBA veteran who’d played next to Yao in Shanghai.
When he wasn’t busy trotting the globe as an athlete, Eric was taking his law school elective classes, typically at Fordham University in NYC. Or studying for the New York bar exam, as he did while competing in handball. Or taking (and passing) the bar, as he did before finishing his playing career in Japan.
“Sometimes, that took some liberties with flying in and out for taking exams,” he says, “but I was able to pull it off.”
In five years, no less.
Eric is a partner at Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, LLP, a law firm specializing in medical malpractice defense. (Courtesy of Eric Gingold)
Like much of America, Eric has spent the spring stuck inside with his family to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, even though he had a personal connection, however small, to ESPN’s The Last Dance, he’s struggled to consume the celebrated docuseries as voraciously as millions of others did contemporaneously—though not for a lack of effort.
“Part of the issue is, no one else wants to watch it here,” he says, “so it's a bit difficult to try and carve out time for myself.”
His wife, Rachel, is Brazilian. “If it's not soccer, she could care less,” he says. The same for his in-laws, who holed up with them and their two young kids in Belmar, New Jersey, after they all rushed back from a family vacation in Grenada as the shutdown began.
So far, neither of the Gingold children has taken a particular interest in basketball. Rebecca, his seven-year-old daughter, is more into gymnastics, though her genetics figure to push her out of that sport size-wise. Alex, his 11-year-old son, has taken surf lessons and been to just one NBA game so far: a 110-97 Knicks win over the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden, on that day in January that Kobe, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished in a tragic helicopter crash.
“Nobody signed any autographs, there was no fanfare, there was no big show,” Eric says. “It was very subdued.”
All he hopes is that his kids express themselves athletically in some way, whichever they may please. If they’re anything like their father, they still have plenty of time to get into hoops. And Alex, so far, seems inclined to dress in Jordan Brand gear from head to toe.
Eric has only played sparingly since retiring. Beach volleyball is his sport of choice these days. When the beaches in New Jersey were closed during quarantine, he set up a grass volleyball court at his family’s vacation home in Belmar.
“I went the way of Wilt Chamberlain [in retirement],” he says.
Family activities aside, Eric has stayed plenty busy away from his usual resident on the Upper West Side of NYC. For more than a decade, he’s been a partner at Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, LLP, a law firm specializing in medical malpractice defense. The pandemic has forced him and his colleagues to figure out how to file motions remotely and take depositions over video chat, all while navigating a legal landscape shifted by a novel virus.
There are still moments, though, when Eric can sneak away to watch snippets of The Last Dance. He can reflect back on his own career in hoops, traveling the world to chase a bouncing ball. The broader nostalgia around the 1990s Bulls has brought back memories of practicing with Michael and Scottie and Dennis. Of summer days at the Berto Center, and summer nights spent sleeping on the floor of a tanning salon. Of jacking up four shots in four minutes of a preseason game at the United Center, missing them all and earning a stern word from Phil as a result.
“He said to me, ‘You know, Eric, I know you're excited, I know that your dad is in the audience, but you just can't shoot the ball every time you get your hands on it,’” Eric says.
“And I swear to God, I said to him, ‘You know, coach, my dad's seen me play plenty. Cindy Crawford was in the crowd tonight in the first row. I was shooting for her.’”
Eric may never have played in a regular-season NBA game for Chicago, but nobody can take away the time he spent with MJ’s Bulls—or accuse him of not shooting his shot.
“Sometimes,” he says, “the journey is the dream.”
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.