Former Chicago Bulls center Will Perdue was a contributor to three championships where he eventually won the respect of Michael Jordan.
Will Perdue was selected with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1988 draft by former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Perdue was not an instant success story, barely playing his first year, sitting behind Bill Cartwright and Dave Corzine. Perdue logged a total of 190 sparse minutes, getting into only 30 games in his rookie season.
Not playing was not fun. Neither was dealing with the verbal attacks of Michael Jordan who was particularly tough on Perdue in those early years. Jordan dubbed Perdue “Will Vanderbilt” because he “doesn’t deserve to be named after a Big Ten school.” It bothered Perdue at the time.
“I was embarrassed by it early on,” Perdue admits, “Michael only knew two things, the ACC because that’s where he played, and the Big Ten because back then in the ’80s, you only saw local basketball. I get drafted and he sees the name Perdue, and he’s like that guy is not even good enough to play at Perdue so I’m going to call him Will Vanderbilt. He hardly ever saw me play, didn’t know much about me and made a blind statement. I didn’t necessarily take it personally, but it hurt a little bit.”
Over time, Perdue earned more playing time and Jordan’s respect. It was not an easy process.
“I just kept working,” Perdue said. “I think he saw my work ethic. I was always in the gym, in the weight room and I didn’t back down. I accepted his challenge, I continued to practice hard and as I slowly started to play, I slowly started to build that trust.”
Perdue fit into the Bulls triangle offense as a willing passer out of the post, which was different from Bill Cartwright who looked to score. He played an average of 13 minutes per night on the first three championship teams, starting 26 games.
Despite the early verbal assaults and the challenges to gain Jordan’s acceptance, Perdue views playing with Jordan as a huge benefit to his career.
“I realized right away, I mean the very first practice in training camp in October 1988, this dude’s a different breed,” Perdue said. “It’s one thing to hear the stories, but to experience it first hand, and think about this is training camp — we are getting ready for the season. This guy’s already in mid-season form. This guy wants to win every drill, every shooting game, every scrimmage. I had never experienced anything like that. It made me more competitive, it made me a harder worker, it made me understand what the definition of intensity was. It also helped me respect him a lot more because I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to be that good all the time.”
Perdue spent the second half of his career mostly with the San Antonio Spurs after being traded for Dennis Rodman. He was a part of the 1999 NBA champion Spurs before returning to the Bulls for one more season under Tim Floyd before finishing his career with Portland.