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Da Bulls

'Portrait of an Era' pays tribute to Bulls dynasty

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

Web posted on: Friday, June 12, 1998 2:42:35 PM EDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Barry Elz is living the sports fan's dream.

On Friday night, he will be on the hardcourt at the United Center in Chicago, watching and snapping pictures of what might be the Bulls' sixth NBA championship this decade; what might be the last of the Bulls as we know them; what might be the final game in the legend of Michael Jordan.

It has special meaning for Elz, who lives in Chicago and has a unique connection to the Bulls. Three years ago, he was invited -- invited! -- by the team to photograph their symphony of players, to capture this moment in sports history before it fades into memory.

The result is Elz's book, "Chicago Bulls: Portrait of an Era", which is currently on book shelves. Spanning from the genius of Jordan to the outrageous flair of Dennis Rodman, "Bulls" offers new perspective on each player -- an inside look at the men who make up one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

Bye, bye Bulls

"The purpose of the book is that it will become the recorded history of these guys," says Elz, who has had his work featured in several leading magazines, including Sport Illustrated. "I really wanted this book to be put in a library, because (the Bulls) are going to be gone soon."

Elz prediction of the Bulls' demise echoes popular sentiment these days. Jordan says he won't return unless coach Phil Jackson returns. Jackson isn't being invited back because of differences with the Bulls' front office. Scottie Pippen, Jordan's right-hand man, says he wants to play somewhere else next season. And Rodman, well, no one knows what he's going to do next.

Which is precisely why Elz jumped at the opportunity to photograph the team. Shortly after receiving the unexpected invitation, Elz began setting up shop at the Bulls' training facility, taking individual time with each player, discovering their personality and trying to translate it to film.

Revealing portraits

Some pictures included in the book: Steve Kerr, the Bulls' anonymous point guard, peaking through his fingers; team jokester Bill Wennington, looking like he might give birth to a basketball; Jordan's trademark bald head, beads of sweat glistening on its dark surface.

One collage features an impromptu meeting between Pippen and his teammate, Ron Harper. In the photos, Harper and Pippen stand with their arms around each other, smiling, Pippen dangling a banana peel over his friend's shoulder.

"Scottie just came over and started wrestling," Elz says. "I don't know what the banana means, he was just holding it. The whole team is so fascinating."


The Worm, turned

Fascinating is a word that has been used to describe Rodman, the man with the tattoo-strewn body and rainbow hair, the player who has consistently lead the league in suspensions, the case study who skips playoff practices to attend wrestling galas under the name "Rodzilla," even though his nickname on the court is "Worm."

So, what's he like in person?

Elz says Rodman was so soft-spoken at the photo shoot that he had to stand next to him to hear him. Rodman had stayed up until 5 a.m. the night before and shyly balked at taking off his shirt to reveal the artwork on his back and chest.

Elz's favorite picture of Rodman is the one where he's hiding his face behind his hands.

"That's really him to me. On the outside he's screaming for attention, but he wants this private moment," Elz says. "He's so unusual. What a wonderful thing as an artist to get an opportunity" to take his picture.

'The most famous human being'

Then there's Jordan, the legend in his own time who carries the mythic aura of the most famous sports god.

"It's surprising, but he is a regular guy," Elz says. "He came out, and as seriously as he took (the shoot) you're still in awe of him. This is still the most famous human being."

Elz found himself looking through the camera lens and realizing that Jordan was making eye contact, acknowledging him.

"For anyone, it would be a memorable situation, getting his attention," Elz says.

But Elz captured it on film for the world to see. "Chicago Bulls: Portrait of an Era" features 108 color and black and white photos. It can be found at bookstores nationwide.


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