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Ex-Bull Ed Nealy selling cars, but he’d like to get back on bench

BY NEIL HAYES
For the Sun-Times

Ed Nealy would watch the opponent’s bench and tell former Bulls coach Phil Jackson and his assistants what personnel changes they could expect.

‘‘He’s like another coach for us,’’ Jackson once said.

Jackson and former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but they did when it came to Nealy, whom Krause once described as an ‘‘NBA coach-in-waiting.’’

So why is Nealy, a former NBA journeyman, selling cars?

‘‘I wanted to get into coaching,’’ said Nealy, who had two stints with the Bulls during his 10-year NBA career. ‘‘I did try one time to get into it. It didn’t work out. Then we started having kids, and I started coaching them in football, basketball and baseball. That took up all my time.’’

Nealy’s wife has deep roots in San Antonio, where Nealy spent two years playing for the Spurs. The family settled there when Nealy retired after watching the Bulls wrap up their first three-peat by beating the Suns in the 1993 Finals.

Nealy was once a regular at Spurs games, but he has attended less frequently in recent years.

‘‘When I was playing, I couldn’t understand why someone would buy season tickets and not come to the game,’’ he said. ‘‘It didn’t make sense to me. Then I was a fan and had season tickets, and I had a son with a baseball game or a basketball practice. I started thinking, ‘How can anybody go to every game?’ I’ve seen both sides of it.’’

Trips to College Station, Texas, to watch one of his four sons, Spencer, play for Texas A&M also crowded his schedule. At 6-5 and 280 pounds, Spencer Nealy was an undersized defensive lineman who started for the Aggies for two seasons. Undrafted out of college, he spent much of the 2013 season on the Vikings’ practice squad before being released in July after he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Nealy said his son took a supplement that contained a banned stimulant.

‘‘That hurt Spencer,’’ Nealy said. ‘‘It looked like he was taking steroids. He missed camp. He’s like me: He’s got to be there so people can see him. You can’t look at him on paper and say yea or nay. He’s the kind of guy who plays with a lot of energy and heart.’’

Nealy said he cherished every one of his 10 NBA seasons and still is asked what it was like to play with Michael Jordan.

‘‘I tell them he was the best player in the world and always will be,’’ he said. ‘‘He was that good. He had an air about him, but it was because he was that much better than we were. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t belong on the same court with him,’ but he never made you feel that way. He didn’t look down at you. Believe me, I wouldn’t hold my tongue if I felt somebody was doing me wrong, but I never felt that way.’’

The Bulls always flew in and out of the same gate when they went to New York to play the Knicks. Nealy said he and former guard-turned-Bulls executive John Paxson found a bar where they were shielded from the public while their teammates got mobbed.

‘‘We were laughing, and then we hear this voice say, ‘There you are,’ ’’ Nealy said, referring to Jordan. ‘‘He sat down with us for an hour before the plane left, and no one bothered him.’’

Nealy, who played college ball at Kansas State and was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame last year, said he would like to explore his potential as a coach if the opportunity presented itself.

‘‘Maybe I didn’t pursue it as hard as I should have,’’ he said. ‘‘I thought it would be easy to get a coaching position, but it didn’t
pan out.’’

THE ED NEALY FILE

THEN: Journeyman forward who had two stints with the Bulls.

NOW: Husband, father, sales consultant at car dealership in San Antonio.

QUOTE: ‘‘All I know is I’ve got six fouls, and I get to use them all,’’ he once said.

Contact Neil Hayes at nhayes40@gmail.com or at neilhayeswriter.com.