When I was 12 years old, I remember dying of dysentery just three days' ride from the victorious end of The Oregon Trail. I'd run out of bullets to hunt food; Maggie had drowned when I attempted to fjord the river; And I was down to my last wagon axle after trading my spare for salted pork. I am not ashamed to report that I cried right there in front of the school's Apple IIe, having come so close to winning in spite of such terrible luck. Only now do I realize that if I'd just named my character Tom, I probably would have won the damn thing with bullets to spare.
Say what you will about Tom Thibodeau, and whooeee is there a lot one could say if they were so inclined, but the Bulls collective performance last night says it all about a man that will one day be considered one of the greatest to ever pace the sidelines of an NBA game.
Homer-y Hyperbole? Yeah, sure. But then again maybe not. It is Thibodeau after all that is credited with introducing a style of defense to the game that has been copied ad nauseum, has altered offensive strategy across the league and yet still remains devastatingly effective. It is Thibodeau that, in his three years of eligibility, has won coach of the year once and been in the conversation the other two. It is Thibodeau who has reached his players in ways that only Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich have in the era of entitled NBA superstars. What Thibs is missing to be considered one of the great is time and hopefully a couple of rings. Whether or not his players die of dysentery before he gets there seems like the only thing that may stop the NBA's most driven personality. Despite his well-chronicled overuse of players, press conference clichés and injury report vagaries, the Chicago Bulls will be a team to be proud of as long as he loudly paces the sidelines.
I feel bad gushing as I'm about to. The truth is I had acquiesced to what I thought to be the Bulls likely fate. As a fan, I hoped for a painful season to mercifully end. It is one of those rare and beautiful moments in today's professional sports where realize that your team actually cares more than you do. To do that to an armchair quarterback of the highest order is no small feat. Nevertheless, there are no words that can be written today that can fully realize the impact and effort of the quite singular Joakim Noah. Count me among the many that watched with giddy surprise as he magically rediscovered his mobility and effectiveness. You kept waiting for him to grimace on a misstep, or land wrong and have the mirage of health vanish, as that is what Chicago has been conditioned to expect over the past decade of local sports. Instead, Jo put his team on his back in a way I haven't seen since the most famous play of his career.
You watch that clip now and marvel at how young Noah looks. Has he been a Bull that long already? Then the game situation dawns upon you. Game 6 of triple OT in an eventual Bulls win. A win that mattered little when the Bulls would go on the road for game 7 and be summarily dispatched by the Celtics. You realize that Noah must remember how that night, and all the ones like it, felt as he took the floor at Barclays Center Saturday. And it becomes a lot easier to understand why Noah stepped out front, grabbed the game by the throat, and led his team to victory.
To the rest of the notes from a SURLY Barclays Center on Saturday night:
- So, Teague can play. That's nice to know. He still runs around like a deer on acid, but to see a glimpse of effective minutes makes you think the future remains as bright as ever for the Bulls in the years to come. Gar Paxdorf wouldn't know a trade if it walked up and shook their hands, but their recent drafting record is beyond reproach.
- I feel bad for Brooklyn Nets fans. I really do. Billy King, who SOMEHOW got his contract extended last week, has assembled a capped-out team of overpaid players for the foreseeable future. It's a hard team to root for. One that found ways to crap the bed all season in games they had no business losing. It came back to bite them in the end, and now the lights are off at Barclays. Not often you hear the home team get booed during a game 7. It happened Saturday night. Also, special shouts to the guido'd up douches who put their hands on a Bulls fan's neck while he was at a urinal and asked if "he wanted to go to sleep". Yeesh.
- No one is happier to see this series end than Taj Gibson. Taj was as out of place as I've ever seen him in his professional career: Not entirely healthy, no real matchup to speak of on the Nets, and obviously low on confidence as a result. He has always played well against Miami, however. He may be the only one of us truly looking forward to the Bulls second round series.
- Get well soon wishes to Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. That Deng was attacked by internet slime prior to game 6 for being soft when he was actually hospitalized was as infuriating as it was unsurprising. Lu is one of the five toughest players in the NBA. Ask around.
- One could pass dap all around - Bellinelli, Robinson, even the forgotten Daquean Cook all had their moment - but c'mon, team win of the highest order, right? Wish as I might have for a difficult season to be over, it is a gift to get to watch a team that cares this much play at least four more games. Daps to you, Chicago Bulls, and shame on me. I'll ride this wagon train until the wheels fall off.