O'Donnell: Announcement of Neil Funk's retirement only recalls sad tale of Jim Durham and the Bulls

  • Bulls TV announcer Neil Funk, here with partner Stacey King, said he'll hang up the microphone after this season.

    Bulls TV announcer Neil Funk, here with partner Stacey King, said he'll hang up the microphone after this season. Associated Press

 
Updated 10/2/2019 10:50 PM

NEIL FUNK IS RETIRING after 28 years of play-by-play with the Bulls.

The announcement was released Wednesday afternoon and wasn't unexpected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He will call regular-season home games and once again reduce his road schedule before signing off next spring.

Since joining the operation in 1991, Funk has been professional, respectful and consistently kind in manner.

But, for team classicists who experienced brilliance, he was never Jim Durham.

And for that, Funk certainly can't be held accountable.

Durham was the Hall of Fame comet who blazed into Bulls air in the fall of 1973 and seemed destined to be nothing but a thing of audio joy for decades to come.

Unfortunately for all in the wake of Michael Jordan's first championship, the natural-born broadcast wizard got caught in bizarre crosshairs partially of his own making.

For the first time in his career, Durham hired an agent to negotiate his next contract.

He chose Darcy Bouzeos, an earnest young representative who was out to make her bones in the big leagues.

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Across the negotiating table was Bulls VP/broadcasting & marketing Steve Schanwald, an equally earnest lad who was determined to prove his worth in the Jerry Reinsdorf empire.

Long story short, just about everything possible and more went askew.

Durham and Bouzeos had empirical data proving that he was not -- in their opinion appropriately -- one of the highest-paid local announcers in the NBA.

With the celestial wings of Jordan elevating all inside the Bulls duchy, Schanwald had a budget and was adamantly going to stick to it.

Word got out that things were getting sticky.

Passes at intervention were proffered by entities ranging from Johnny Kerr -- Durham's great running mate -- on over to at least one representative of commissioner David Stern.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Reinsdorf himself -- stunningly, amazingly, sadly -- never stepped in and decreed: "This nonsense will stop, whatever it takes."

So, Durham was let go, free to pursue a career that brought him even more national acclaim and eventual induction into the Naismith Hall as the Curt Gowdy Award winner in 2011.

One year later, on Nov. 4, 2012, at age 65, Durham suddenly died of a heart attack.

And Funk got to call the final five championships of the Jordan era.

It wasn't his fault.

But the entire Durham affair served as a strange tell about the extreme intractability that Reinsdorf and his delegates were capable of.

Seven years after Durham's departure, that obstinance would rock the earth when Jordan himself was kicked to the curb on the threshold of a strike-shortened season that almost certainly would have brought a seventh championship to the Chicago Bulls.

All of which simply reinforced the enduring West Madison Street lament:

"What's the point of being a Bulls fan if you don't realize that in the end, they're going to break your heart?"

Fare thee, Mr. Funk, fare thee well.

STREET-BEATIN': As forecast here last January, Mark Giangreco re-upped for what will probably be his final full three-year contract cycle at WLS-Channel 7. A 2022 signoff would give the facile Buffalo native a full 40 years as a prominent Chicago TV sportscaster -- a number that no local has ever hit. … Jim Rose -- Giangreco's teammate at the ABC o-and-o -- generated the most intelligent sports radio of the week as an a.m. guest on WCPT-AM (820) Wednesday. Rose discussed pending state laws which would allow college athletes to be paid -- long overdue -- and emphasized which subsets take a disproportionate loss of potential income because of existing exploitation. … Czech!-please: Pat Foley and Steve Konroyd will call the Blackhawks season opener vs. Philadelphia from Prague on NBCSCH (Friday, 1 p.m.) while Troy Murray and John Wiedeman return on WGN-AM (720). Eddie Olczyk, who could not make the 'Hawks Euro trip because of bigger NBC network commitments, will participate in wraparound programming from Chicago. … Speaking of NBCSCH, the transitioning cable outlet continues to be plagued by more and more junk programming and its ongoing disconnect with DISH Network. First-year station head Kevin Cross needs to either catch a break or generate one of his own. … Mrs. Anita Robertshaw, long of Mount Prospect, passed away at age 99 Wednesday. Through her extraordinary kindness, on a long ago Saturday at Arlington Park, son Rick Robertshaw and five of his teenage wild bunch got to use her season table in the Classic Club -- on the window just beyond the 16th pole -- to watch Secretariat race past three pretenders in a live segment that aired on ABC's iconic "Wide World of Sports."… Heisman-sniffing Johnathan Taylor and unbeaten Wisconsin -- Chicago's adopted Big Ten team -- move to 5-0 Saturday against visiting Kent State (ESPNU, 11 a.m.). Badgers caveat looking forward: Paul Chryst had to show far too much on offense last week vs. the typically brilliant defensive scheme of Northwestern DC Mike Hankwitz (a former UW assistant to Bret Bielema). … Luke Stuckmeyer (Prospect High, Class of '90) is leaving NBCSCH after a resolute 15-year run. He was a hire of the estimable Jim Corno Sr. … Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Don Ho and Duke Kahanamoku will all be missing when the Clippers host a midnight matinee (CDT) against Houston overnight Thursday-Friday from Honolulu on The NBA Network. … If the current sports gaming area at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond is any indicator, bookies have absolutely nothing to worry about. The space has all the charm of an abandoned La-Z-Boy warehouse. … And CBS drone Phil Simms, who long ago jumped the shark as an insightful NFL network analyst, on Chase Daniel: "Yes, he's going to be great in the preseason but I saw him play those two games last year, especially outdoors, and you have to worry a lot." Ah, Phil … no you don't.

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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