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Gar Forman didn’t set out to be a GM, but Bulls are glad to have him

Bulls GM Gar Forman has had lifelong passifor basketball. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

Bulls GM Gar Forman has had a lifelong passion for basketball. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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When: 6 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Newark, N.J.

Coverage: ESPN, ESPN3.

Rounds: Two.

Updated: July 28, 2012 6:29AM

Seventeen years spent as a college assistant
helped prepare Bulls general manager Gar Forman for the NBA draft Thursday.

Forman isn’t likely to find a superstar with the 29th overall pick, but identifying a player who can contribute to the rotation is critical for the Bulls moving forward.

‘‘When you’re at New Mexico State and Iowa State, you’re not getting McDonald’s All-Americans and blue-chip players,’’ Forman said. ‘‘You go to these tournaments, and it’s easy to identify who the five-star prospect is. Who we had to identify is who is the four-star or three-star prospect that is going to help you win enough to be a top-20 team.

‘‘In some ways, the evaluation is tougher because you’re not looking at the cream of the crop. You’re having to project guys that fit what you’re doing.’’

Unlike vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, Forman wasn’t an NBA player. The man who, along with Paxson, has been most responsible for building a team that has posted the NBA’s best record in consecutive regular seasons was never a head coach in college or the NBA.

Forman is an accidental GM in that he never aspired to be one. But he has a long-term plan and refuses to be swayed by popular opinion.

‘‘Gar and I have as good a working relationship as I could imagine,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘We discuss everything and make decisions based on what we feel is best for the Chicago Bulls both today and looking toward the future.’’

What’s most remarkable about Forman’s career is how unremarkably it began.

Forman can’t explain the source of his lifelong passion for the game. He grew up a gym rat in Moraga, Calif., with more drive than talent. He watched games at nearby St. Mary’s College. He used to sneak into the Oakland Coliseum Arena to watch the Golden State Warriors practice. His favorite player from the Warriors’ 1975 title team wasn’t Rick Barry but little-used Steve Bracey.

Forman jokes he has a soft spot for popular 12th man Brian Scalabrine because he played just as sparingly during his career.

‘‘When I got done with high school, I literally wrote every university and college on the West Coast, just seeing if I could play in college,’’ Forman said. ‘‘The coach at Lassen Junior College was one of three or four coaches who actually wrote me back. He said I could come up and try out. I went up there and had one of those nights were I couldn’t miss a thing. I fooled them.’’

He played at the College of Notre Dame, an NAIA school in the Bay Area, before landing as a student assistant at Utah State. At 23, he inherited a junior-college job in Palm Springs, Calif. He later became an assistant at New Mexico State, where he recruited former Chicago high school standout Randy Brown. Brown, a former Bulls player, now is Forman’s special assistant.

‘‘He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself,’’ Brown said. ‘‘I didn’t see myself playing 12 years in the NBA. Gar saw that.’’

Forman’s success recruiting junior-college players from Chicago was a big reason why New Mexico State went to five consecutive NCAA tournaments before an investigation into academic fraud resulted in the Aggies being sanctioned. The NCAA’s infractions appeals committee exonerated Forman.

‘‘When they cleared me of everything at a final NCAA hearing, the head of the committee scolded the NCAA for putting me through that and did it in front of everybody in the room,’’ Forman said. ‘‘There was a little bit of satisfaction in that.’’

By that time, Forman had been hired by Iowa State coach Tim Floyd. Floyd was close with then-Bulls GM Jerry Krause, who took Forman under his wing when he learned Forman was more interested in being an NBA scout than a college coach.

Forman sent Krause scouting reports on Big 12
players, and Krause critiqued them. When Floyd was named the Bulls’ coach in 1998, Forman joined him in Chicago.

‘‘His way is refreshing,’’ Floyd said. ‘‘He’s not pretentious. He’s not an over-talker. He’s genuine about what he’s saying. He’s a great listener, which is a rare trait today. He’s probably got more friends than anybody I know in the business because he doesn’t offend people and he’s great at returning calls.’’

Forman isn’t a typical GM in another way. While most NBA executives say they purposely ignore the media, Forman is always watching, reading and listening.

‘‘I want to have a sense of the market, of what our fan base is thinking,’’ he said. ‘‘What you have to do is separate noise from what might be important. But . . . we’re always going to make decisions based on what we think is best for this team and organization moving forward, even if it’s not a popular decision. If we stay true to that, we’ll continue to make progress.’’

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