For Chicago Bulls’ fans like Ali Bilardello, the championship teams from the 1990s and players like Scott Pippen will forever be without equal.
“Those teams in the ’90s, I was out of college and just moved home and went to all those parades and celebrations in the city,” said Bilardello, of Naperville. “I remember ducking out of work early when I was a lifeguard in order to get home and watch a game.”
A chance to meet the legendary basketball player was impossible to pass up for hundreds of Bulls’ fans, like Bilardello, who was among those who lined up Monday at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville to have Pippen sign a copy of his new autobiography, “Unguarded, ” and get a photo taken with the NBA Hall of Famer.
Pippen’s book is a no-holds-barred look at his life, including the championship years with the Bulls and his experiences with coach Phil Jackson and teammates, which included Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman.
The memoir also explores the tragedies his family suffered as he grew up the youngest of 12 children in Hamburg, Arkansas. Pippen would go on to be the fifth overall draft pick in 1987 after being ignored by every major college basketball program in the country.
Pippen declined to meet with media or do a Q&A session, but that didn’t deter fans who were thrilled to meet one of their idols.
“He’s awesome. He was always one of my favorite, top guys that we liked on the team,” Bilardello said.
Fans spoke of the Bulls’ glory years and how Pippen may have been one of the game’s greatest players.
That was true for Catherine Sieber, of New Lenox, was first in line to get her book signed Monday.
“We just grew up on the Bulls,” Sieber said. “They were the epitome of everything. They were the team. … People don’t watch as much basketball as they used to since those Bulls teams played.”
Eric Depodesta, of Cole City, said the 40-minute drive to Naperville “was definitely worth it.”
“This is my first time here and for me, Scottie is a big deal. I grew up with him going through high school on and all the championships. He’s a hell of a player,” Depodesta said. “It’s just his whole story about him — a small-time player in college who came up and made it big.”
It was a cannot-miss opportunity for Sergio Medina, of Aurora, who learned about the Pippen appearance through the bookstore’s Facebook page.
“When I saw (Anderson’s was) going to have Scottie, I started going in and checking out to see how to purchase a ticket,” he said. “To be honest with you, Scottie is one of my favorite basketball players and since I started getting into basketball, I have nearly all of his sneakers made by Nike.”
Dan Walsh brought his daughter, Maren, 11, saying he wanted to see Pippen “because my life in the ’90s revolved around the Chicago Bulls.”
“Your schedule was dictated back then by when the Chicago Bulls played, and when I learned I had the chance to meet Scottie Pippen, I couldn’t pass it up,” the Manhattan resident said.
Maren “couldn’t wait to meet him” either, she said.
“I really like him a lot and he played with Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan and I couldn’t wait to meet him because I look up to him in basketball and stuff,” she said. “I’ve been able to watch some of the old games. When I see Scottie, I’ll probably ask him about the hardest team I’ve faced.”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.