CHICAGO -- The last time the city of Chicago had a major sports championship event to generate this kind of excitement, Bill Wennington was wearing a No. 34 jersey and helping the Bulls to their sixth NBA title of the 1990s.
As fans jammed the 100-level concourse Sunday night before Game 2 of the World Series, there again was the No. 34 jersey with "WENNINGTON" across the number on the back. But this time it was a Chicago White Sox pinstriped jersey, and the popular 7-footer was arguably the biggest celebrity at that moment.
Fans crushed against him for autographs and pictures, shouting his name, and it kind of felt like the Bulls magic from that Michael Jordan era was back in a baseball way. This World Series marks Chicago's first appearance in a major sports championship event since the Bulls' glory days, and Wennington was soaking it up with everyone else.
"It's awesome," Wennington said. "It's great for Chicago. It's just unbelievable to see the fans get this excited, just like it was with the Bulls."
When told that he was obviously a center of attention before this game, Wennington deadpanned, "It's kind of hard not to be when I'm wearing a 'Wennington' jersey. I was given this one by [Sox owner] Jerry Reinsdorf through one of his friends here when they had me throw out a first pitch, so I figured this was a good opportunity to wear it."
Wennington, the big man in section 107 on this night, is a color commentator these days, along with Neil Funk, for the Bulls' ESPN Radio 1000 affiliate. During his 13 seasons in the NBA as a player, Wennington toured with three teams and appeared in 720 games, averaging 4.6 points and three rebounds. He signed with the Bulls in 1993 and spent six seasons with the team, winning three world championships (1996-98).
Wennington was a role-playing reserve on those Bulls championship teams, but known for the occasional clutch basket as well as his comic wit. Early in Jordan's comeback from the first retirement, Jordan scored 55 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Wennington scored the game-winning basket for his only points that day, leading him to quip: "Michael and I combined for 57 points."
He was there that night in 1998 when Jordan hit the final game-winner over Utah's Karl Malone for their second NBA threepeat. It was the last time a Chicago sports team appeared in a major event until this weekend, and fans were not about to miss the opportunity to share it with him. "I'm kind of hard to miss," he said.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.