For Bulls fans, before there was Michael Jordan, there was Reggie Theus.
He was a singularly popular man of royal Chicago streets -- basketball king of West Madison and a fur-collared, insti-prince on Rush. He showed Stadium crowds pre-Magic showtime. He romanced models and ran with socialites, and it all came crashing down oh-so-quickly.
Theus was run out of town because of a sudden -- and still mystery-laden -- estrangement from coach Kevin Loughery. In the space of 12 months, Theus traversed a strange helter-skelter from NBA All-Star to seldom-used bench rider to Kansas City King.
''I should have been the first player to choke a coach,'' Theus can joke today.
Perspective -- and success -- help fuel the laid-back reflectiveness of the still-photogenic 47-year-old. That's because Theus is experiencing one of the greatest weeks of his basketball life.
On Saturday, the former ''Rush Street Reggie'' will be at Rick Pitino's side as an ace assistant when Louisville (33-4) plays Illinois (36-1) in an NCAA semifinal in St. Louis.
Within hours of the Cardinals' finale -- be it triumph in the championship game Monday night or a quick departure after a loss either Saturday or Monday -- Theus will be jetting to Las Cruces, N.M., where he will assume his newest career role as the incoming head coach of the faded basketball program at New Mexico State.
''I have come full circle,'' Theus said Tuesday. ''This is a culmination of a lifetime in basketball. On every level.''
Theus arrived in Chicago in 1978 as a 21-year-old rookie with a long, defined frame, a Billy Dee look and the sort of up-tempo skills that in the possession of other stars would set the table for the NBA's fabulous rebound of the 1980s.
''I had something special with the fans in Chicago,'' Theus said. ''Every night, they would chant my name. When I left, they were still chanting my name.''
After five marquee seasons with the Bulls -- including two as an All-Star -- Theus' sixth season was expected to be nothing less than more of the same.
''People who weren't there misunderstand my relationship in Chicago,'' Theus said. ''They saw the end and they think it must have been messed up the whole time. But it wasn't. I had a bad two, maybe three months in Chicago, but other than that, it was fantastic.''
Loughery appeared to go out of his way to publicly humiliate Theus. While the Bulls' younger players flailed, Reggie sat. With cigar-store veterans such as Caldwell Jones and David Greenwood laboring, Theus still sat.
''Fellows,'' Theus told Chicago reporters, ''my soul is bleeding.''
Finally, on the league's trade deadline -- Feb. 15, 1984 -- Theus was dealt to the Kings for vagabond big man Steve Johnson and three second-round draft choices. He would play seven more full seasons in the NBA.
''To this day, I still don't know what happened,'' Theus said. ''[Loughery] and I never had a major run-in, argument, nothing. I am more mad about it today than I was then because now I realize how unfair it was. Then, I was a kid and I was so into being professional that I didn't know any other way to react but to take the high road.''