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Remembering Orlando Woolridge

The high-flying forward from Notre Dame was one the best Bulls players in team history

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Orlando Woolridge was the sixth overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1981 NBA Draft. He passed away at age 52 on Friday.

    Before “Jordan and Pip,” the Chicago Bulls featured the high flying, high-scoring duo of Michael Jordan and Orlando Woolridge.

    Younger Bulls fans may not remember the 6-foot-8 forward who played for the legendary Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, but those who do know Jordan and Woolridge as Chicago's first “dynamic duo.”

    Woolridge was the sixth pick overall by the Bulls in the 1981 NBA draft, the same draft that saw two Chicago natives – Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas – get picked first and second overall. He died Thursday at age 52 in Mansfield, La., after suffering from a chronic heart condition.

    As a rookie during the '81-'82 season, Woolridge averaged just 7.3 points per game, but by his second season in '82-'83, he more than doubled his scoring output to 16.5 points. His average increased again during his third professional season in '83-'84 when he put up 19.3 points per outing.

    By the time MJ came to Chicago as the third pick in the1984 draft from the University of North Carolina, Woolridge had already completed three seasons in the league and had established himself as the best player on the Bulls and one of the premier power dunkers in the entire NBA.

    Of course MJ took over the title as Chicago's best player as soon as he stepped off the plane from North Carolina, but Woolridge was definitely a capable sidekick.

    In the duo's first year together during the '84-'85 season, Jordan averaged 28.2 points and Woolridge increased his scoring average once again to 22.9 points as they led the Bulls to a 38-44 record and made the playoffs for the first time in three years. They were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in four games, but it was a great sign of things to come in the Windy City.

    During the '85-'86 season, Jordan broke his foot and Woolridge was in charge of keeping the ship afloat in the absence of their young superstar. Thrust back into the role as the Bulls best player, Woolridge played in 70 games that season and led the Bulls in scoring with 20.7 points per game. Of course MJ did play 18 regular season games that year and averaged 22.7 points an outing, but Woolridge did all of the heavy lifting as the Bulls made the postseason once again.

    After the 1986 season, Woolridge became a free agent and took his game to the swamps of New Jersey. From there he would go on to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers before leaving the game for good in 1994.

    After battling personal demons for years, Woolridge passed away at his parent's home in Louisiana. Despite his troubles and the way he bounced around the NBA after leaving Chicago, the man who wore number “0” and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar style eye goggles will always be remembered as being a part of the foundation that led to the Bulls prominence in the NBA.