Kirk James Hinrich was born on January 2, 1981 in Sioux City, Iowa. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Jim and Nancy, got a feeling immediately that their son was destined for greatness on the basketball court. On the same day Kirk entered the world, his dad earned his first victory of the year as the head coach of the West High School hoops squad. From the hospital, Nancy rooted on the Wolverines as the team’s cheerleading sponsor.
Kirk was drawn to
sports before he could walk, especially basketball. Jim often sat his
son down next to him when he tuned into a game on television. During commercials,
Kirk would prompt his dad to toss him a miniature basketball, which he
would shoot at the 6-foot hoop set up in the living room. As Kirk grew
older, his parents set a ground rule: if he broke anything, practice was
over. The youngster quickly learned the lesson of valuing the ball.
Kirk began playing hoops seriously in the second grade. Jim went to Ray Nacke, his old coach at Briar Cliff College, and asked if Kirk could attend his summer camp. Nacke hesitated at first—the camp was for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. But the Hinrichs were insistent, Kirk included. The youngster proved he belonged by becoming one of Nacke’s best players. Two years later, there was no argument when Kirk graduated to the camp for kids in their early teens. Again, he excelled against his older competition.
Jim and Nancy weren’t
surprised by Kirk’s success. Neither were his friends (whom he still
hangs with today). Kirk was good at anything he tried, and his work ethic
was legendary. On the football field, he was a star quarterback who ran
the ball as well as he threw it. On the baseball diamond, he was a dominant
pitcher and hitter.
Basketball, however, was Kirk’s favorite sport. He modeled himself after Gary Payton of the Seattle Supersonics. Kirk loved Payton’s commitment to defense, marveling at the All-Star guard’s quick hands and feet, his nose for the ball, and the delight he took in shutting down an opponent. Kirk decided he wanted to be the same type of player.
By the time Kirk entered West High as a freshman, he was a known commodity—partly because of his talent, but also because Jim remained the team's head coach. Years earlier, Kirk had served as the ball boy for the Wolverines. He rode on the team bus, sat in for his dad’s pre-game pep talks, and challenged seniors to games of H-O-R-S-E after practice. These experiences helped mold him into a true leader. So did his penchant for hard work. While friends were out partying, Kirk spent extra time in the gym, honing his jump shot and other parts of his game.
As a sophomore, Kirk was already being recruited by major college programs. He actually made a verbal commitment to Iowa State, but changed his mind when coach Tim Floyd left the Cyclones for the Chicago Bulls.
West High was nearly unbeatable during Kirk’s career. The Wolverines went 82-9 and contended for the state title every season. The team finally won it all in Kirk’s senior year. He scored 25 in the championship game. The championship meant even more to him because it was his dad’s first too. (Jim has since become the coach at North Kansas City High School in Missouri.)
Kirk ended his four years at West High as the school’s all-time leader in steals, assists and scoring. Named honorable mention All-America by USA Today and Parade, he also shared Iowa’s Mr. Basketball with Nick Collison of Iowa Falls. This wasn’t all these had in common. Both signed to play for Roy Williams at Kansas.
ON THE RISE
Kirk and Collison were hardly strangers. Twice during their high school years, they played on the same AAU team. When they arrived on campus in Lawrence, they moved in together at the Jayhawker Towers. Kirk appreciated the friendly face. Initially at KU, he felt the pangs of homesickness. But once practice started, he began to adjust to college life.
When the season began, Williams used Kirk off the bench. But with the Kansas offense sputtering and the postseason approaching, he got his chance. Williams inserted Kirk into the starting lineup at point guard, and the freshman responded to the vote of confidence. Over the team’s final 13 games, Kirk shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and made sure everyone was involved on offense. He finished the year with 123 assists, the fourth highest total ever by a Kansas frosh. Kirk also made an impression in the Big 12 tourney, as the Jayhawks won the title for the third year in a row.
Kirk stayed busy
in the off-season. He tried out for the U.S. World Championship team,
but was cut in favor of Duke’s Jay Williams. Disappointed, Kirk
refocused and prepared for his sophomore year at Kansas. As usual, his
hard work paid off.
Running an offense that included two of the nation’s more talented forwards in Collison and Drew Gooden, Kirk developed into one of the nation’s most efficient point guards. Named All-Big 12 Second Team by AP, he averaged 6.9 assists a game, led the team in steals and set a school record by shooting 50.5 percent from 3-point land.
With Kirk, Collison and Gooden leading the way, Kansas went into March Madness with high hopes. But Illinois ended the season early for the Jayhawks in the regional semifinals. Kirk took much of the blame for the loss, feeling the Illini had taken him out of his game with physical play. He reacted by hitting the weight room and putting 15 pounds of muscle onto his 6-3 frame.
Kirk began to draw the attention of pro scouts during his junior season. Playing under Williams and next to Collison and Gooden didn’t hurt. But NBA teams also noted his steady progress at the college level. Against superior competition, Kirk was doing more than holding his own—he was learning how to dominate. This was evident when he scored 23 points and added six assists in a 105-73 blowout of conference rival Missouri.
Kirk finished a great regular season as the Big 12’s three-point leader, draining 66 of 138 attempts. Then he had a great NCAA Tournament, helping Kansas reach the Final Four for the first time since 1993. The Jayhawks ran out of gas, however, losing to eventual champion Maryland.
Many hoops experts speculated that Kirk and Collison would bypass their final season for the NBA. They were wrong. Both players wanted one last shot at the national title. Kirk, in particular, had a lot riding on his senior year. Williams moved him from the point to shooting guard in order make room for Aaron Miles. The switch revealed new depth to his game. Selected to the Wooden All-American squad and first team All-Big 12, Kirk ranked second on the squad in scoring at 17.3 ppg and passing at 3.5 apg.
In the big tournament, Kirk guided the Jayhawks back to the Final Four. This time he and Collison delivered with a 94-61 drubbing of Marquette. One victory away from the championship, Kansas dropped a heart-breaker to Syracuse, 81-78. The loss to the Orangemen was especially painful for Kirk. He couldn’t hit a thing for most of the game, until the last minutes of the second half when the Jayhawks made a furious run. But Kirk’s trey with seconds remaining bounced out, and Kansas fell by three points. He broek down in tears in the locker room.
MAKING HIS MARK
Kirk expected to go in the first round of the NBA draft, but not necessarily as a lottery pick. The Bulls, however, found themselves with a huge hole at the point after Jay Williams shattered his leg in a motorcycle accident a week before draft night. Picking seventh, Chicago tabbed Kirk, who was delighted by his good fortune. After heading to Las Vegas with his childhood buddies to celebrate, he got serious about his rookie season.
Kirk learned a lot
in his first year—mostly about losing. Veterans Scottie Pippen and
Jalen Rose were expected to provide leadership, but it didn’t matter.
The young and inexperienced Bulls struggled to maintain any sort of consistency,
and Chicago limped home at 23-59. In the frontcourt, Eddy Curry and Tyson
Chandler showed flashes of potential, but just as often made dumb mistakes.
Kirk led a backcourt also trying to figure out the pro game.
Through the season’s first few months, Kirk seemed unsure of himself. But once the Bulls decided on Scott Skiles as head coach, he began to settle in. Skiles saw some of himself in Kirk, just as Chicago GM John Paxson did. Together, they helped mold Kirk into a standout guard.
By April of the 2003-04 season, Kirk was playing with intelligence and confidence. He scored a season-high 29 points against the Orlando Magic. Less than a week later, on the campaign's final day, he notched his 14th double-double of the year with 18 points and 11 assists versus the Indiana Pacers. An easy choice for the NBA’s Got Milk? All-Rookie team, Kirk topped all first-year players in passing and 3-pointers, shattered the Chicago rookie mark for treys with 144, and was named the team’s player of the year.
The Bulls added more youth for the 2004-05 season, drafting two new backcourt mates for Kirk, Ben Gordon out of UConn and Chris Duhon from Duke. They also brought in Luol Deng, Duhon’s Blue Devil teammate, and Argentinian Andreas Nocioni to increase the team’s depth upfront. When Skiles got his troops to dig in on defense and run the break, the “Baby Bulls” flourished. After dropping their first nine, they won 22 of 32 and eventually finished at 47-35, good second in the Central Division and the franchise's first playoff berth since 1998. Though the Bulls were bounced in the first round by the Washington Wizards, basketball fans in Chicago felt rejuvenated.
Kirk was a big reason for their optimism. The Bulls faithful identified with him on every level. Kirk was intense, soft-spoken and didn’t seek out the media spotlight. To no one’s surprise, he was voted team captain. More and more on the court, Kirk looked for spots to take control, either leading by example or firing up his teammates with words of encouragement.
Kirk improved in virtually
every statistical caterogy in ’04-05, including scoring (15.8 ppg),
shooting (just under 40 percent from the field), rebounding (3.9 rpg)
and defense (122 steals). He also managed to keep his assists total high,
even though Duhon assumed more of the point guard duties. Kirk’s
balanced, all-around game earned him praise league-wide, and drew more
than one comparison to former All-Star Jeff Hornacek.
Improvement was the theme for Kirk and the Bulls again in 2005-06. And while Chicago’s record dropped to 41-41, the team came together in ways that made it more dangerous for the playoffs. Gordon developed into a more consistent scorer, Deng and Nocioni became more dependable in crunch time, and newcomer Mike Sweetney offered plenty of muscle in the paint.
Kirk, meanwhile, proved a perfect on-court leader. He allowed Gordon to shine whenever he had the hot hand, but never shied away from the big shot. On the other end of the floor, he always covered the opponent’s best guard and rallied his teammates to be just as tough on defense.
Chicago faced it sternest test in the postseason against Miami. The pesky Bulls pushed and prodded the Heat, taking the eventual NBA champs to six games before bowing out. Kirk was outstanding, averaging 20.5 points and 7.7 assists. What drove him crazy, however, was his inability to take care of the ball. He registered 24 turnovers during the series.
Kirk spent the summer training, traveling and playing with Team USA in preparation for the World Basketball Championships in Japan. Battling the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade on a daily basis helped him on and off the court. He was as frustrated as anyone when the U.S. was upset by Greece in the semis, but still found the experience of tremendous value. His stingy D and hot shooting from the perimeter may have guaranteed him a spot on the American squad for the 2008 Olympics.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are heading into the 2006-07 with eight new faces on their roster, including veteran Ben Wallace and rookie Tyrus Thomas. Clearly, Paxson sees the opportunity to unseat the Heat in the East and return Chicago to its championship ways. Of course, he’s relying heavily on Kirk to get the team there.
Kirk has embraced the added responsibility. He wants nothing more than to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy over his head for Chicago’s fans. Just don’t expect a long sound bite when he does.
Kirk has already made a name for himself as one of the league best defenders. He always seems to be balanced, rarely gives an inch, and his instincts are uncanny. Comparisons to players like Jason Kidd, a longtime All-NBA defender, are the norm.
On offense, Kirk continues to develop his perimeter game, but doesn't settle for the jump shot. He is quick to the hoop and can finish as well as he passes off to open teammates. His poise with the ball makes him a natural point guard, as does his ability to dribble through pressure. Kirk, however, has the versatility to play the off-guard position, too.
As the son of a coach,
Kirk thinks through a game extremely well. He understands all situations,
knows when to push the tempo or slow things down, and is a great asset
in crunch time. His attitude and work ethic rub off on teammates. So does
his toughness. Kirk plays through injuries of all types and doesn't mind
a little contact on his way to the hoop.
© Copyright 2006 Black Book Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.