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VN Archives: Lennard Zinn meets NBA star Bill Cartwright

Lennard Zinn builds extra large bikes for extra large people. In this At the Back column from 2009, he recounts building a custom bike for Bill Cartwright, head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

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The last half century has produced countless amazing moments in pro cycling, and VeloNews has been there for almost all of them. This year we celebrate our 49th birthday, and with nearly a half century worth of archives, we want to present some of the more memorable VeloNews covers, feature stories, and interviews from our past. Our hope is these curated snippets will help motivate you to pursue your passion for the sport you love. 

The voice on the phone sounded like it came through gravel at the bottom of a deep barrel. “This is Bill Cartwright, coach of the Chicago Bulls,” it said. The voice was so strange that I would have figured it was a prank and hung up, were it not for the fact that Anne Stein, a former Inside Communications staffer working for the Bulls, had given me a heads-up that he might be calling. (Cartwright’s deep, gravelly voice was apparently a result of being hit in the throat during his stellar career as an NBA center, which included winning three championship rings with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.)

“I understand you make bikes for tall guys,” the deep, raspy voice went on. “I want to order one.”

I replied I’d need to get his measurements.

“We’ll be playing the Denver Nuggets in a few weeks,” rasped the voice. “I’ll leave some tickets at Will Call for you and we can meet in the locker room after the game.”

Cartwright had said “tickets,” so I figured I could bring a friend, and then VeloNews technical editor Andrew Juskaitis and I pulled into the Pepsi Center a few weeks later. Turns out there were four tickets at Will Call, for prime seats. We sold the extra two and watched the Bulls lose to the Nuggets, despite the efforts of its seven-foot-one, 275-pound coach.

Andrew and I are both six-foot-five and generally tower over other cyclists, but we were in another league in the locker room after the game.

Giants walking around in towels and their giant coach, dressed smartly in a tie and sport coat, made us look like Lilliputians. Using a retractable tape measure and my funky old dowel stick with a bubble level taped to it, I took Cartwright’s measurements, including his 1,072mm (42.2-inch) inseam length.

After picking up a deposit check and agreeing to be in touch on the phone, we left the Bulls to lick their collective wounds. Cartwright was new to cycling, so after telling him that he needed to choose between a steel frame and a titanium one, he asked in that deep, gravelly voice, “Which is better?”

I launched into a long-winded explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of each, but he cut me off, demanding to know what I rode. I said that I preferred my titanium bike.

“Well, there you go,” came the reply out of the gravel, and the decision was made. Picking components was just as easy. After I explained that there were two component companies, Shimano and Campagnolo (this was 2003, pre-SRAM road), and that each of them offered many price and quality levels of component groups, the gravelly response was, “Which is better?”

He again cut off my explanation, this time of how Shimano STI levers work versus Campagnolo Ergopower, by asking what I rode. I said that I had Campagnolo Record on my titanium bike and rode it most often. Wheel choice was made the same way, and that was all he had patience for, so I picked the crank length and the saddle, stem and bars. I made him a giant, Record-equipped titanium road bike with a towering, 355mm-tall head tube and 210mm cranks.

I arranged to ship it to a bike shop I knew on Chicago’s North Shore for assembly and delivery to his house. I never heard a word again from Cartwright. I have, however, often chuckled and marveled at how easily he could make decisions many cyclists agonize over.