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'I was in shock': How one Grand Rapids basketball great got his shot at playing with Jordan and the Bulls

Grand Rapids native and former MSU player Matt Steigenga played two games for the Bulls in 1997. He left with some great stories and amazingly, a championship ring.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It all started with a phone call.

“It was a Saturday morning and I was living in Milwaukee,” recalls Grand Rapids Native Matt Steigenga. “Right away it’s, ‘Matt, this is Jerry Krause.’”

Steigenga wondered why the infamous general manager of the Bulls was calling him. He remembered he had recently asked the team for tickets to an upcoming game but that was not the reason for Krause’s call.

"Jerry said, ‘How bout instead of coming to the game, you play in it?’” Steigenga said.

The former Michigan State star couldn’t believe it. Having been drafted by the Bulls in 1992, he had all but given up on his NBA dream after getting cut by the team in the fall of 1996. Now just a few months later, not only was going to play in the NBA, he was also going to play with Michael Jordan and the world champs.

“It was a huge shock,” he says with a smile. “I jumped out of bed, running around the apartment excited.”

There wasn’t much time to celebrate. Steigenga quickly joined the team for a mid-April game in Detroit the next day. He played a total of four minutes, scoring a one point.

“I had a lot of family there,” he recalls. “A lot of people from Grand Rapids came over to watch me play that day so it was pretty cool.”

Steigenga thought it couldn’t get any better but did it ever, the following night in Chicago.

“When I checked in (against Toronto), I came right over to Steve (Kerr),” said Steigenga. “He said, ‘every time you touch the ball shoot it. ‘“

With apologies to the future Warriors coach, Steigenga didn’t listen but when he did shoot, he made it count. His only hoop of the game, and only field goal of his NBA career, came off a one handed alley-oop dunk that brought the fans at the United Center to their feet.

“The dunk I had," he says with a smile. "The place literally exploded. It was really a neat moment for me.”

While it was the last NBA regular season game Steginga would ever play in, it was not the end of his time in Bulls. He stayed on as member of the practice squad for the rest of the year and despite playing in only two games that season, he still took home a championship ring as the Chicago win its fifth title of the 90s.

“Michael said to me, 'you deserve to be part of the team during the playoffs,'” Steigenga says. “To me that justifies getting a ring.”

A ring that came from an unexpected ring from Bulls management and now he’s forever a part of basketball history.


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