There are sportsmen and women who came into the limelight and stayed there for years, piling up successes and trophies. But sport also has its surprises and improbable stories, making heroes out of people who asked for nothing, or almost nothing. Today we will talk about Matt Steigenga’ craziest story !
The Chicago Bulls of the 90s and their six titles, it remains in the memories because it is a feat and a domination that will probably never be equaled in the world of sports. Led by Michael Jordan, the team of Phil Jackson can also rely at the time on players like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman or Steve Kerr. But in 1997, this band will briefly be joined by Matt Steigenga.
“Who?” you may be thinking. Unless you’re a big NBA fan or a fan of the Bulls’ heyday, that name probably doesn’t ring a bell. And that’s almost normal because the player has only played in two games with the Chicago team. Moreover, at the end of the regular season, when the first place is already assured. And it’s a bit by chance that Matt Steigenga found himself on the Bulls’ bench.
Drafted in The Wrong Place
The portrait of the winger seems unflattering so far and yet, late 80s and early 90s, Matt Steigenga was a real university star. At the prestigious Michigan State University, he was even considered the best player in the state. But he did not confirm this status until he was drafted in 1992. That’s why his name was far from being placed in the first choices.
It is only at the end of the second round that his name was pronounced and chosen by… Chicago. Ouch. Falling in the double NBA champions with its pack of stars, it was probably not the best place for a Rookie. He hangs on during the preseason but he was reluctantly cut by the general manager of the time, Jerry Krause, just before the season starts.
From boredom to light
Matt Steigenga played in Spain, in Vitoria, before returning to the CBA, the second division of basketball in the USA, before leaving for Japan for three seasons. At the age of 27, in 1997, he returned to the CBA, which allowed him to live but it was far from the career he had imagined. But in the spring of 1997, his destiny will change a little by chance.
While his Milwaukee team is eliminated in the CBA playoffs, Matt Steigenga is bored at home and leaves a message to Jerry Krause (pictured) asking him for tickets to attend a Bulls game with his fiancée. But the next day, the answer from the Bulls GM will surprise Steigenga: “Instead of coming to a game, how about coming to play instead?”.
The contract is prepared and the player takes, in the wake, the plane to Detroit with the Bulls. Here he is with a contract of 3000 dollars per game for ten days. While the first place of the Bulls is assured, the infirmary is filled and a place is thus free in the roster of Phil Jackson. The coach did not really need an element but Krause knows that Michael Jordan has nothing against Steigenga, on the contrary. So, why not make him happy?
Two Rings for a Ring
On Sunday, April 13, 1997, Matt Steigenga sits on the bench of the Bulls, five years after his failure in the draft. He plays four minutes, scores one point but becomes the good story for the media, which makes his teammates laugh. “I’m still in shock. For me, it’s just a great opportunity. It should be fun. We’ll see how it goes.”
The next day in Chicago, the crowd clamors for his name and Jackson gives him eight minutes of playing time. Steigenga makes the most of it with two points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal and a counter. This is also where Matt Steigenga’s on-court adventure with the Bulls ends. But only on the floors of the NBA.
Indeed, players like Rodman or Kukoc are back in service for the playoffs and there is no more room for the 27-year-old wing. But everyone is asking him to stay, including the great Michael Jordan. “Stay with us, we will make you win a championship ring”. So he participates in the training of the Bulls, who will win a fifth NBA title and do not forget to offer a championship ring to Matt Steigenga, who attended this as a simple fan.