Why my favoritism for Kirk Hinrich can’t be measured through statistics

The Atlanta Hawks’ Kent Bazemore (24) drives to the basket as the Chicago Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich defends in the third quarter during exhibition action at the United Center in Chicago on Oct. 16, 2014. The Bulls won, 85-84.

By Ashley Wijangco

There was something about that move that triggered a sense of familiarity within me.

Pau Gasol threw a lob up to Jimmy Butler in the right post. Butler was calling for the ball, but by the time he got it, Gary Neal closed out on him. That’s when Butler saw Kirk Hinrich open in the right corner.

Kemba Walker quickly closed out on Hinrich in the right corner, but it didn’t make a difference. Hinrich beat Walker off the dribble, taking two dribbles to the right. He stopped before putting up a 21-foot, right-wing jumper while slightly fading to the right. It went in.

I had seen that shot both made and missed before, mostly during Hinrich’s early years as a Bull. Once the shot fell through the net, though, I knew it was one of those nights: Hinrich was going to score big.

Hinrich ended Sunday night’s 101-96 win over the Charlotte Hornets with 26 points, two assists and a steal in 32 minutes. He went 11-for-14 from the field, 2-for-4 on threes and 1-for-3 from the charity stripe. It really shouldn’t be that big of a deal since it was only preseason, but it was still the highlight of my weekend. 

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If there’s one thing that makes me happier than watching the Chicago Bulls play basketball, it’s watching Kirk Hinrich play for the Bulls, because I can’t imagine anything better than watching my favorite player compete for my favorite team, but for someone who’s also a huge fan of superstars like Derrick Rose and LeBron James, saying Kirk Hinrich is my favorite seems ridiculous. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only basketball fan left who still likes Hinrich.

If it were 2006, I’d seem reasonable for saying Hinrich is my favorite. He was at the top of his game, made the NBA All-Defensive second team and was the leader of the “Baby Bulls.” Even if it were 2010, I’d seem more sane. He averaged double figures in points, and that was also the year that he became the Bulls’ all-time leader and made three-point field goals, but now it’s 2014. Hinrich’s almost 34 and in his 12th NBA season. He’s definitely not the player he once was.

“He can’t shoot. He can’t even score. He’s too old. He’s too slow to be the good defender he was before. He’s always hurt.”

I’ve heard all of that too many times. Regardless of whether any of that is true, absolutely none of that has changed and will never change the fact that Hinrich is my favorite. My appreciation of Hinrich is about much more than the numbers I see next to his name in the box scores.

Tom Thibadeau has said it several times before: You can’t measure his value through statistics, and I completely agree with him, but even all the charges he takes and hustle plays he makes don’t define why he’s my favorite. It’s about love and loyalty.

I first heard about Hinrich after the Bulls drafted him with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft. My older brother told me about him, and he was the first Bull I actually knew about whose name wasn’t Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. I eventually came to remember him as someone who shot threes and hustled, which I loved.

With more time and knowledge, I was able to acknowledge other aspects of his game, like his play-making ability, leadership and defense. I ended up liking Hinrich so much that not even Derrick Rose’s speed and flashy plays could dethrone Hinrich as my favorite; Hinrich had made too much of an impact on me as a basketball fan. His trade to the Wizards and eventually the Hawks couldn’t change that either. It simply meant I didn’t get to watch him play as often, and that’s where the loyalty really kicked in.

Finding out Hinrich was traded to the Wizards for essentially nothing in June 2010 was one of the most upsetting moments of my life. I never wanted to see him play for any team besides the Bulls, but I toughed it out. Getting to see him play at all, even on a horrific Washington team, was worth the pain. Seeing Hinrich in Atlanta was easier, though, since the Hawks were a playoff team.

Hinrich’s time away from Chicago was worth it, because it made his homecoming so much better.

Nothing was ever certain, but I always knew Hinrich was going to come back to the Bulls. When I found out he verbally committed to sign with Chicago as a free agent on July 8, 2012, I was ecstatic.

I didn’t know quite what to expect once Hinrich returned to the hardwood sporting a Bulls jersey again, but I never expected him to suffer so many injuries. I, like him, thought he was past the injury-plagued seasons he suffered in Atlanta.

Unfortunately, I was wrong, and with those Hinrich’s injuries came shooting struggles I didn’t want to happen, but going through tough times comes with being a fan. Most people associate loyalty with being a fan of a particular sports team, but it’s something that should be applied to liking particular athletes too. The two differ, because teams eventually get better with time while athletes peak and go downhill, so I understand why there are people who don’t support Hinrich anymore. I just don’t agree with them.

I’m not going to stop supporting a player after having done so for years just because he got worse. He’s human, so it’s inevitable. The good, productive days have pretty much passed. They’ll occasionally reappear, but loyalty isn’t about just appreciating the good times. It’s about going through everything. I wouldn’t have truly appreciated Kirk’s 26-point performance without that loyalty, and I certainly wouldn’t be the basketball fan I am today without him.

Ashley is a sophomore in Media. She can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @wijangco12.