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Tom Boerwinkle, one of the first good 7-footers in NBA history who played 10 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, died Tuesday, the Bulls and University of Tennesse announced. He was 67.
Boerwinkle was known as a “gentle giant,” a gifted passer and tenacious rebounder who was first-team All-Southeastern Conference at Tennessee in 1967 and 1968. He averaged 7.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists in his 635 NBA games, all with the Bulls.
“Tom was a once-in-a-lifetime guy,” former Tennessee teammate Bill Justus said in a news release from the university. “When you meet a guy like him and have him as a teammate, he becomes a brother to you, and there’s no replacing someone like that.”
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The Bulls drafted Boerwinkle fourth overall in 1968, and he reeled off four impressive seasons to start his career before being slowed by injury. His best season came in 1970-71, when he averaged career highs with 10.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game.
Boerwinkle set a still-standing franchise record with 37 rebounds Jan. 8, 1970, against the Phoenix Suns. He ranks second in Bulls history with 5,745 rebounds.
“In addition to being one of the Bulls all-time great players, Tom was one of the kindest men you would ever want to meet with the gentlest of souls,” Bulls vice president Steve Schanwald said in a news release. “A true gentle giant who made great contributions to the Chicago Bulls organization on and off the court. We will miss him greatly and our condolences go out to his wife, Linda, his son, Jeff, and his daughter, Gretchen.”
Boerwinkle died Tuesday at his home near Chicago after a lengthy health struggle, according to Tennessee.