BOSTON — Kirk Hinrich sits in the corner of the TD Garden visitors’ locker room. Geared for battle in the Chicago Bulls’ crisp red uniform, Hinrich only needs to dress his freshly taped ankles in a pair of black sneakers resting on the floor.
Hinrich rolls an orange back and forth between his hands. His wrists are inked with the only tattoos on his body. The first was etched around his left wrist after his grandfather, Frank Burton Huston, passed away in July 2006. His second tattoo, on his right wrist, marked the birth of his first child. Vacillating ICU monitor lines encircle both wrists as well, representing the birth of his twins one year ago.
Hinrich, a 13-year veteran, has played 11 seasons with the franchise that drafted him and built a stable home in Chicago for his family, a luxury rarely afforded in the NBA.
He’s the Bulls’ all-time leader in both three-pointers made and attempted by a mile. Only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have played more games in a Bulls uniform than Hinrich. He ranks fourth in minutes played, third in both steals and assists and eighth in points.“He’s been a warrior for the franchise,” says Doug McDermott. “He’s been a really good player and put it all out on the floor. He deserves a lot of credit.”
McDermott was 11 years old when Chicago made Hinrich the seventh overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, hoping the floppy-haired Kansas product could help restore a dejected franchise that hadn't won more than 30 games since Jordan’s final title in 1998. McDermott’s locker now stands adjacent to his childhood hero. “I looked up to him growing up, you know, being a kid from Iowa.”
Chicago picked in the lottery once more, drafting Ben Gordon third overall in 2004, and the Bulls finally returned to the postseason in Hinrich’s second campaign, winning 47 games in 2004–05. “I was a very small part of trying to get it back to respectability,” Hinrich says humbly.
Hinrich has witnessed a total shift in personnel in Chicago. He was there for the rebuilding seasons that set the stage for Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau to guide Chicago back to the Eastern Conference finals, and now Hinrich is a supporting cast member—just like Rose, amazingly—in the Jimmy Butler show, featuring new coach Fred Hoiberg. “I’ve seen a lot of change,” Hinrich says.
Aside from his pit stops in Washington and Atlanta, Hinrich has been the one constant in Chicago over the last decade. Amidst all of Rose’s injury woes and endless leadership issues, Hinrich has consistently irritated opposing point guards defensively and excelled at unquantifiable intangibles.
He’s no longer a starting-caliber point guard. Hinrich hasn’t averaged more than 10 points per game since 2010–11. He’s thriving as a secondary contributor, though, shooting a career-high 52.0% from three (13-of-25), and serving as the Bulls’ backbone during a precarious first quarter of the season.
Chicago’s record stands near the top of the Eastern Conference despite a perplexing start. Butler chastised Hoiberg for being too laid back after the Bulls’ Saturday night loss to the New York Knicks, although Hoiberg had publicly criticized his roster for playing too soft only a week earlier. The Bulls rank just 27th in offensive efficiency after finishing 10th last season, even though Hoiberg introduced a new, freewheeling offense.
During earlier times of turbulence this season, Hinrich has stabilized the ship. With Rose sidelined as Chicago visited Golden State in November, Hinrich was tasked with guarding Stephen Curry for 34 minutes. He limited the reigning MVP to 3-of-11 shooting from three while scoring 17 points of his own. “He’s a guy that goes out and does the little things,” Hoiberg says. “He organizes everything on both ends of the floor.”
Hinrich has certainly been more of a conductor of late. He hasn’t scored in double figures in all of December. His presence alone has proven a calming effect in an ominously quiet locker room, a wily veteran that’s been through the gauntlet more than any Bulls player outside of Pau Gasol. “The young guys, they’re joking all the time, ‘Did you play with Bill Cartwright?’” Hinrich says with a smile.
Hinrich’s name could land amongst those older Chicago greats. His imprint on the franchise was essential, as the pilot who, at long last, helped navigate the Bulls back to prominence. Hinrich doesn't expect his No. 12 to be raised the United Center rafters, though. “I got too much respect for those guys that are up there, with the All-Stars and the championships,” Hinrich says. “I don’t belong up there.”
He’s no stranger to legendary company, though. After all, Hinrich is the fifth member of the historic 2004 NBA All-Rookie First Team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
He still keeps tabs on that iconic draft class, and is quick to point out that Warriors’ interim head coach Luke Walton and backup guard Leandro Barbosa were also selected that year. He then adds David West and Kyle Korver, for good measure. “Those guys are everywhere,” Hinrich says.
Tracking the setting of Hinrich’s success has been easier. He has been one of the most identifiable post-Jordan players for the Chicago Bulls.