A Brief Tribute to a Team I Grew Up Despising: Gradually Opening My Arms to the Bulls

If you are a Celtics fan born between 1976-1986, you grew up despising the Chicago Bulls. Windy City basketball dominance was merciless in the 1990’s.  Michael Jordan’s fade-away, Scottie Pippen’s long-arms swooping for steals, Bill Cartwright’s pointy elbows throwing dmage, and Phil Jackson’s stoicism: all were cruel reminders of what the Celtics were not.  The Celtics were in tatters.  An end-of-his-career Dominique Wilkins heavy on jumpers.  A David Wesley at the beginning of his career, with his Raymond Felton-lite ground game.  Dino Radja’s last good season. Sherm Douglas’ bulky knee-pads.  The enormous bald dome of Eric Montross.  Remember back when being 7-feet-tall guaranteed you a contract? “Never-nervous” Pervis Ellison never had a need to be nervous during his Boston tenure.  Aside from those four playoff games in 1995, the games simply didn’t matter that much.  And he was in a suit on the sideline. Yes, they had to wear suits back then, before David Stern had his vice grip on the NBA’s image.

The Bulls dominated.  Michael Jordan’s face went global.  His shoes went stratospheric, right with the price tags attached to them, and the gun-shots that rang-out in pursuit of them.  Fast forward to 2012.  The Chicago Bulls began the season without their future, their fixture, their franchise: the quiet-natured, knee-rehabbing Derrick Rose.

2012-13 Chicago Bulls

Life ain’t fair: Luol Deng loses fifteen pounds from complications that stem for a spinal tap for meningitis? Life overflows with irony: a team that pounds its competition into the court with its physicality, intensity, and its generally-rugged disposition, has run out of energy. Life ain’t easy: facing the defending champions who came into the series having lost two games since February 2nd. Life is full of injuries and illnesses: too many to list.  All four truisms apply to the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls. Some playoff deaths come slowly and painfully. Others come swiftly and silently. The Chicago Bulls are currently dying a slow, gruesome death this May. Last night’s 88-65 contest was as palpable an example of a team on its “last legs” as I’ve ever witnessed. And I witnessed the 2012-13 Boston Celtics!

Let’s take a second to think about them. Derrick Rose’s year never started, but the amount of words written and spoken about him was endless.

Rose’s season was the epitome of what ails the sports world: the era of echo-chamber journalism, twitter-obsessed news, rampant speculation, and fruitless debating about a player’s health based on a team doctor’s biased diagnosis.

There are two redeeming aspects of the Rose saga.

One: a player’s psychological ability to recover is as important as his physical ability.  Most of the media ignores this, and most fans ignore this.  Example, “They said he’s healthy!  Why isn’t he back?!  They need him.  He makes !231# million dollars and year!!@#!  He should be back by now!”  Rarely do you hear anyone saying, “Is he mentally ready?  How long will it take him to get over the knee injury, mentally?”  Jeff Green had open-heart surgery last year.  Fans begin criticizing him the minute he starts to struggle in regular season games.  Instead of considering, “Is he mentally ready to take the lane pounding that comes with driving to the hoop with abandon?”  Or, “How is his stamina?”  Green’s second half of the season proved how important he is to the Celtics future.  But in December, all you heard were trade rumors.

Two: he serves as an example of how much damage a team can do to its players by mislabeling injuries, shortening careers with false health clearances, and turning the public against its beloved player by demanding he get back on the court. If you’re unaware of the Bulls organization checkered past, read Tom Ziller’s piece for SB Nation: http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2013/5/8/4311600/derrick-rose-chicago-bulls-injury-luol-deng-doctors

The Bulls without Rose were an incredibly resilient bunch.  In fact, they are a definitive example of collective resilience.  In a linguistic age where the word “resilient” is bandied about with complete disregard for its true meaning, the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls epitomize the word.

resilient, adjective. (of a person or animal)–  Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.  (dictionary.com)

resilient, characterized or marked by resilience: as  – b: tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary)

It was impossible for any fan of Thibodeau, defense, the Underdog (Nate Robinson’s new nickname?), or fans of the concept of resilience itself, not to root for against the mighty Heat.

Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich pulled them though the 7-game tug-of-war with Brooklyn. The mentally and physically tough Bulls survived against a much -more-talented, and much-less-cohesive Nets team. Losing Hinrich for the final 8 games of the playoffs (I’m counting Wednesday’s Game 5 as a Heat win) was a bigger blow than most realize. This year, the Bulls were 9-20 without Hinrich. In addition to his gritty defense, Hinrich was the lone decision maker on this Bulls roster. As much as Nate Robinson shined at times in the playoffs, he is still Nate Robinson, a tiny ball of fire, who can cause chaos for opposing defenses, but was riding a meteor that was destined to flame out. Given the huge number of minutes, even Robinson wore down. Luol Deng’s health complications were downright bizarre.

There will be a Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday.  It will not be close. One team can only bounce back so many times.  The Celtics learned that lesson because of age and injury this year.  The Bulls learned that lesson because of injuries compounded by pure bad luck.

Goodbye, 2012-13 Chicago Bulls.  I learned to love you, despite myself.

Jonah Hall writes The Darko Index to add a necessary layer of subtext, when he notices those layers, to the games so many of us watch so closely.

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One thought on “A Brief Tribute to a Team I Grew Up Despising: Gradually Opening My Arms to the Bulls

  1. Dave says:

    Nice work, appreciate your reflection. As a Bulls fan, I have to admit that I felt a bit apathetic about this team at the start of the season. Transitioning from CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik to a team reliant upon a bench full of misfits is not something that you look forward to. To my surprise, guys like Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson picked up the slack. Their performance was bolstered by the emergence of Jimmy Butler as a guy who demands 30+ minutes per game moving forward (regardless of whether that comes as a starter or off the bench). The Bulls playoff run always felt like the team was playing with house money…no Bulls fan actually expected that the team would knock off Miami. That said, I appreciate the effort that the team gave, and especially the way that they channeled and embraced the role of modern NBA equivalent to the Bad Boys Pistons. Nobody is going to look forward to playing these guys next year, especially with Derrick Rose back in the fold.

    All of this is a testament to the culture that Tom Thibideau has created. Now, if we can just get Nikola Mirotic to replace Boozer…

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