My Dance with the Chicago Bulls: No Regrets
Updated: Jun 9
Upon watching The Last Dance on ESPN, the number of phone calls that I have received from my friends who remembered my time that I had a tryout with the Chicago Bulls and the story that went along with it after all these years reminds me that all live through stories and the power of the message that they give us at a certain point in our lives. I will share with you briefly my story in the hopes that it can provide you with something to take away from it.
I was fortunate as an NCAA college athlete to have led the country in scoring in the NCAA Division 1, 2 and 3 levels.
This was before the age of the internet and social media. I was such a dedicated athlete to my craft as I realized early on that I had to be great at something in this sport as I wasn’t the tallest player, nor the most talented, but that I was going to be able to suffer and put in the work while others relied on their physical talents. Upon my graduation from college I was able to get an invitation to play in the Los Angeles Summer Pro League. It was a great opportunity to play with top talented players in front of scouts from within the NBA and Europe. I was approached by a coach who was there from Spain to ask me to play for him. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity as I was fortunate to be able to get such an offer.
I caught a plane to play in Spain and do my best and in the summer of 1989, I got a special invitation to be a part of the Chicago Bulls tryouts. In 1989, the NBA reduced the format of the draft from 3 rounds to the current standard of 2 rounds that exists today. After that, the undrafted players who got the invitation known as the free agent were able to try out for a spot on a team. I was so honored, excited and knew it was a long shot, but that I would give all I could toward this one moment.
The Work Ethic of No Regrets
I was living at the time back in college earning my degree from the University of California-San Diego and staying with my friend as he was the Resident Dean of one of the colleges and thus afforded me the unique opportunity to earn my credits for graduation and train for my tryout.
I would train at 5:30 am every morning usually on the outdoor courts as I had no access to any gym on campus. I had the incredible and unique opportunity to train with Chris Dudley. Chris and I were the same age and he had finished at Yale the same year that I had from UC-San Diego.
He had been on the team with the Cleveland Cavaliers out of college, was entering his 2nd season in the NBA and fortunate for me; he was living in the La Jolla area. I would meet with Chris each morning suggesting that we play one on one full court against each other.
This would afford him the opportunity to be able to use his 6’11” frame to get up and down against myself who would pick him up full court and force him to work on his ball handling and skill to get a shot instead of just posting up as he might otherwise do in a five on five setting.
The same held true for me. I would have to get creative to get past him and not take for granted any shot that I took up as he would block that attempt.
It was great for us both.
After my morning practice, I would turn around to get to my morning class.
Shortly after class, I would get on my bike and ride stationary for about an hour and then, back to playing: this time playing five on five. This was usually with some other top professional players, like Lorenzo Romar and Zack Jones to name a few within all of San Diego.
I would return back to campus to rest and then go to shoot free throws working on any weakness that I had with my body, conditioning and mentally in the early evening.
This was my basketball routine to prepare for this one time shot that I would have.
I wanted to have no regrets.
I knew that making the team was a long shot, but I wanted to at least be respectable to myself in this effort.
No Regrets, its Game Time: Chicago Bulls Tryout
The time comes and I am so nervous as I am actually on a plane to Chicago and then going to a camp where there are other free agents from major universities some with experience of playing abroad, others straight out of the NCAA.
We are housed together in a dorm and then assigned a roommate, assigned to a team, and told that we are to be tested, in our speed, agility, jumping and daily scrimmaging all on video. I am nervous, as we meet our players who are assigned to be on my team and you know everyone is sizing each other up.
Where did you come from?
Where did you play, etc.?
All major guys to be certain and I am assigned as a point guard which I of course am grateful as I share with all players when I meet them, that you just sprint the floor, I am not going to be dribbling in the back-court, I am going to forward the ball and allow them to do their thing. The real reason is that I didn’t want to lose the ball in the back court by getting stripped/the ball stolen from me and leading to a dunk for that person and have the video camera show that, then immediately pan back to who did that steal come from!
I didn’t want any part of that.
This decision proved to be correct as the players loved the fact that I was sharing the ball, encouraging them to run out and be rewarded and allow them to do what they could to get going. It made them feel that I was willing to share the ball and allow them to be seen. What happened, is that the ball would end up being stopped and then kicked back to me and I was so ready to make that and any shot that I had, with a little glimmer of an opening and I did.
I had games with many assists and if not, then I was at least credited with being an unselfish player and if given the opportunity to shoot the ball, would make the shot, I ended up with a high scoring average as a result.
So I advanced to the next stage.
Each day there were players who were cut.
This included my roommate who was let go and left me with a very empty feeling as those that we were with were now going to include the draft picks that were selected and chosen others that the organization wanted to bring in. The heat turned up now, the “eyes” on everyone now was everywhere it seemed. Again, holding true to my own philosophy was giving me the best option to keep on competing this time with some fresh bodies who were drafted and given special attention, as they should have been given.
I am again thinking how lucky I am, to be going against guys that I saw on TV in college and kept true to myself by saying, “No Regrets.”
I end up eventually being the last player released before the Vets arrived.
It was between me and a nice player who was about 6 inches taller than me by the name of BJ Armstrong.
He played very well, was efficient and the organization had been watching him all year long as a draft pick. I left however, very proud of myself.
I was so fortunate to have my cousin come over from Ohio to see me participate and be named as one of the last players selected and that made me proud. We left camp together. I walked out with my head held high as I overachieved in my opinion. I had no regrets. We went out to see the city of Chicago which I never had been to and just enjoyed ourselves some incredible pizza and went out to see the sights.
Ultimately, as I have been able to be contacted by those that I know who knew me when I went to the camp a long time ago, having been reminded by the Last Dance documentary. The 2nd episode there was a brief glimpse of what those camps were like, a simple jersey, a huge number on front and back and video of the games to be reviewed. I left that camp with many lessons.
Preparation was in my control and the key to my internal confidence. Deciding on what was going to be my key to success, i.e. passing in the back-court. Letting my game face be seen when I played and then showing my teammates that I loved the game and showed them my enthusiasm.
Lastly, grateful for the opportunity to be there as a kid from the South Side of Tucson, Arizona who was allowed to live out a dream, and leave, with no regrets!
Did you know enjoy the story I shared about a dance I had with the Chicago Bulls?
If so, check out my new book, “Take Your Shot, Make Your Play,” where I highlight 9 keys to finding true success on and off the court.
About Me, John Saintignon
Thank you for reading my story!
My passion for basketball has led me to being one of the leading figures in the sport for a long time.
I played college ball at the University of California, Santa Cruz where I am the All-Time Leading Scorer in University history and led the entire United States NCAA college basketball with a Scoring title, leading the nation in scoring in 1985-86 averaging 31.2 points per game. I am still the University of California-Santa Cruz's all time leading scorer.
But my passion didn’t end there, I have spent years as a professional FIBA coach coaching professional teams all around the world and even be a scout for the NBA.
Passion can take you far, for me it took me all over the world. I share my journey so it can be a light to yours to take your shot in life and make your play!
Now its time to write your story: take your shot and make your play!
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