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Let go after altercation, Kendall Gill still defending himself

Former Bulls analyst admits response improper to Tim Doyle, but says he was sticking up for himself

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

6:46 PM CDT, October 26, 2013

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Kendall Gill held his palm 6 inches from his nose.

"He was this close to me,'' Gill recalled calmly at his kitchen table. "That's my personal space.''

Seven months have passed since Gill punched college sports analyst Tim Doyle in the CSN Chicago newsroom but time has done little to change Gill's mind that he did what he had to do under the circumstances. Detailing the incident for the first time inside his stylish home on the South Side, Gill described the exchange that cost him his job as CSN's Bulls analyst as an example of self-defense more than the loss of self-control.

"I've been in the NBA 15 years and broadcasting for seven seasons,'' said Gill, who averaged 13.4 points in 966 NBA games for seven teams from 1990-2005. "You know how many people have said things to me? I know how to walk away from a fight. But nobody ever got in my face and was this close, saying F-you.''

It all started March 19 when Gill was in a post-show meeting in CSN news director Kevin Cross' office with the television on. Gill heard Doyle, on the panel of "SportsTalk Live,'' criticize his and Stacey King's interpretation of a basket-interference call that cost the Bulls a last-second overtime victory against the Nuggets the previous night. Known for offering strong and colorful opinions, Doyle referred to Gill and King as friends but expressed surprise at how emphatic they were that the call was wrong. He kidded about plans to stop following both guys on Twitter. The glib words incensed Gill.

"You can't come to our station and throw us under the bus like that,'' said Gill, 45. "I said, OK, I'm going to wait for him to come off the show and say, 'Be professional. Respect us.' That was my idea.''

Soon, Gill's good intentions escalated into bad blood. Outside Cross' office, Gill approached Doyle as he exited through the CSN newsroom.

"I was like, 'Tim, you can't come on our show and discredit us like that. We're the Bulls analysts. I'd appreciate a little more respect,''' Gill claimed. "As soon as I said that, the guy gets in my face without hesitation and says, 'F--- you, what the F--- are you going to do about it?' Then he got in my personal space.''

According to Gill, at that point he pushed Doyle against the wall.

"He kept talking, saying, 'You don't know where I'm from,''' Gill said. "Now I don't know what this guy will do. Where I'm from, if you (act) like that, you're going to do something to me. So I started looking at his chest because if he's going to do something I can see it all coming from right there. He didn't take a swing but I felt his body come toward me. It was a natural reaction. I'm not thinking I'm at Comcast SportsNet, I'm thinking about self-preservation. I saw him move closer and that's when I threw a punch.''

A trained boxer, Gill connected his fist with the front of Doyle's mouth. Several people separated the two 6-foot-5 men scuffling in suits. Hours later, Danny Ecker, a reporter for Crain's who was on the panel with Doyle, broke the story online and reported blood was drawn. Ecker refused interview requests from the Tribune to discuss his version of events Gill disputed.

"I did just enough to back (Doyle) off,'' Gill said. "Listen, I've studied (martial arts) and boxing for 15 years. If I really wanted to hurt the guy I could have hurt him. But I didn't.''

Doyle preferred not to rehash details but defended his right to disagree with Gill on the air without having to fear for his safety off of it.

"In the business we're in, we get paid to express our opinions,'' said Doyle, 31, a former Northwestern forward. "I played basketball at a really high level — not the NBA but Big Ten. I was not great but pretty good. I thought that was a rules call. I have a lot of respect for Kendall. He played a long time in the NBA. But my opinion was he got that wrong. That was it.''

On an ESPN set in Bristol, Conn., minutes after the melee, Stephen Bardo's cellphone rang. Bardo was the first person Gill called after storming out of CSN. The two have been close since starring for the Flyin' Illini from 1986-90 so Bardo immediately sensed trouble from Gill's voice.

"I love Kendall like a brother and he's not going to like me saying this … but he was wrong,'' said Bardo, who's starting a YouTube show with Gill called BackcourtOnline.com. "I know he was trying to defend himself but you can't hit another man in the workplace. That's not Kendall's nature. He should have just said, 'Tim, you know, that NBA team you played on … oh, that's right, you didn't play in the NBA. So shut up.' That was all he needed to say.''

Instead, Gill's act deprived him of the opportunity to speak about the Bulls in an analyst role he loved. After immediately suspending Gill for the rest of the 2012-13 season CSN decided last summer not to offer him a contract and hired former Bulls center Will Perdue to sit alongside host Mark Schanowski.

"After an offseason evaluation process, we made the decision to not bring Kendall back,'' Cross said. "We appreciate everything Kendall has provided our network over the years and wish him nothing but success.''

Gill cherishes the extra family time with his wife, Wendy, and young sons Phoenix and Kota but, with the Bulls season opening Tuesday in Miami, he misses the camaraderie at CSN — especially with Cross, Schanowski and producer Kevin Anderson. He knew he gave CSN officials no choice but to discipline him but wondered if the punishment fit the crime.

"I believe the suspension was warranted because that can't happen,'' said Gill, who gave his version to CSN over the phone. "Originally, the thought was, "OK, we'll suspend you the rest of the regular season. The next morning I got a call from Comcast that said they changed their mind and it was for the playoffs too. I was shocked and disappointed, seeing I had given them seven seasons. I thought I was part of the family.''

Admittedly out of line in an office environment, Gill still thinks his response was justified. Asked if he regretted hitting Doyle, Gill paused for several seconds as he looked at one of the many customized pieces of art hanging on his walls.

"I'm disappointed in what happened and never wanted to leave a job that way,'' Gill said. "I don't condone violence but do believe in defending yourself. Am I sorry I did what I did? I can't apologize for being a man. Any man would have done what I did.

"I can't apologize for that.''

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh