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The last playoffs before Armageddon

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at Chicago Bulls Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to BLee for today’s game preview. We need previews for both games this weekend if you’d like to sign up -yfbb]

***

[A short story inspired by WP Kinsella’s "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" but about the 2016-17 Chicago Bulls.]

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For the first time in a while, Gar Forman felt good about a Bulls game. Doug McDermott dropped 31 points and Jimmy Butler came up big in the final minutes as the Bulls beat the Grizzlies. "Finally," thought Gar, "the vision I had following the 2014 draft is coming together! Add a buyout player later in the season and we’re good for the playoffs."

As he did almost exclusively after victories, Gar checked his secret Twitter account. Amidst the #BullsNation tweets on his feed, Gar saw an odd one from an egg account @Archangel44, mentioning his secret account: "@BullsFanAmes If the Bulls make the playoffs this year, it will be the last playoffs before Armageddon. #BullsNation"

Gar stared at the Tweet for a good two minutes, thinking it was odd that such a weird tweet would incorporate the official hashtag as handed down by the PR team before the season started. Then he thought about how it was at least better than the Knicks hashtag which was just "#Knicks." Why the hell wouldn’t they pick something unique, something like "#RockTheGarden" instead of just the team name? The Knicks need a new communications team. Gar snapped out of his mental aside and refreshed his feed. The tweet was gone, and after a quick search, the user "@Archangel44" did not exist.

Slightly rattled, Gar thought nothing of it and headed for bed. "Must be a spambot."

----

Gar Forman had only briefly met President Obama during one of the President’s trips to the United Center, certainly not enough to leave an impression, though Obama was no fan of Gar’s decision to part ways with Tom Thibodeau.

This time Obama showed up in a dream, walking with Gar among the playgrounds in Iowa - where both of them began the latest stage of their careers: Gar, getting his start at Iowa State before joining the Bulls, and Obama storming the Iowa Caucuses on his way to the presidency in 2008.

"Listen Gar, I can’t get into details," Obama said. "But, you have to understand: if the Bulls make the playoffs, it will be the last playoffs before Armageddon."

Gar didn’t quite know how to respond. It was his JOB to get the Bulls to the playoffs, and, if possible, to win in the playoffs. He tried to respond but the right words weren’t coming to him. "Younger and more athletic, we’re trying for a culture change, Fred is right, Rondo adding to our team," a series of sentence fragments that made little sense strung together. No matter what he tried he couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

"Gar, I understand. I’m the biggest Bulls fan there is, but if the Bulls make the playoffs, it will be the last playoffs before Armageddon."

Forman and Obama shared a look. Then Gar woke up.

----

Gar Forman kills time by playing 2042. It’s part escapism, part procrastination. This time, he played for procrastination. He had been texting with Danny Ainge for at least two years trying to get a trade done and it wasn’t working - Ainge wouldn’t cough up what the Bulls needed for a full rebuild, and Jimmy Butler, coveted by Boston, was too damn good to trade.

Forman was aware of his team’s predicament, and that left him in a precarious position himself: the Bulls occupied that area between being a legitimate Conference Finals contender and being out of the playoffs. Forman also knew that his job depended on being able to get out of that middle ground and into the upper echelon of the East. In the meantime, Butler was probably good enough to drag the team to the playoffs all by himself - averaging near 25 points per game, with a 52 point performance under his belt, and single-handedly making games exciting in the fourth quarter. Jimmy Butler is the superstar that the Bulls need, and under a reasonable contract, too!

Gar started a new game in 2042. Swipe left, then up, then right, then down, then down again, damn, no more moves. Have to get back to reality. Can’t think about the tweet from last night, can’t think about the dream. Be present.

The Bulls entered Tuesday’s game at exactly .500, with a record of 21-21. Dallas coming to town at 13-27 meant that there was a good chance for a home victory, but the Mavericks had their way with the Bulls back in December, "One of the most pathetic performances in recent memory," a subheadline from Blogabull.com that Gar has tried hard to forget. It's not one of the keys to today's game, but maybe if the Bulls had landed Harrison Barnes, thought Gar, things would be different. But instead we’re here.

Ainge, persistent as always, texted again on Monday to ask whether Forman had thought about the latest offer for Butler. Gar responded saying he hadn’t yet, but really he did. The offer was perfect, everything he could have wanted from the Celtics, the right combination of players and draft picks. Gar was conflicted, as usual. Butler could drag this Bulls roster to the playoffs all by himself, but was that really worth it? Why not tear it down and start over? But Jimmy is great! Shouldn’t we stick with him, and add pieces to make him better?

Gar pulled up another game of 2042 but jumped up seeing a push notification from Twitter, this time a Tweet from incoming President Donald Trump.

"They won’t build the wall? Trust me, Mexico WILL PAY!"

Forman’s phone buzzes again with a text from an unknown number "if the Bulls make the playoffs it will be the last playoffs before Armageddon." Gar didn't respond and put his phone down, looking over both of his shoulders, one at a time.

"What the hell is going on."

---

Jerry Reinsdorf made his way to Gar Forman’s box at the United Center during the Mavericks game.

"Gar, we have to make a decision, and I think you know which one it is," Jerry said, with that same look Obama had in the dream the night before. They watched the rest of the game together, words unspoken. Jerry knowing the reality of the situation, but not knowing the gravity of it. That was all Gar.

---

The game against the Mavericks proved to be an uneventful slog. Butler got to the free throw line, Wade made some buckets, Robin Lopez had a good game in the absence of Andrew Bogut, and Dirk got his points for the Mavs - same as it ever was. Still, the score stood tied in the final minutes, not unlike the Bulls record, and apparently not unlike the world itself, teetering in the balance between favorable and unfavorable outcomes.

Jimmy got the ball to set up the offense, and as he drove to the basket, Gar composed a text message, 15 characters long, "Ainge, Danny" in the "to" field. Butler hung in the air for what seemed like ages as Nowitzki went up for the block.

Then, closing his eyes and saying a little prayer, Gar pressed "send."

The Bulls and Mavericks play at the United Center tonight at 7:00 on CSN-Chicago and 890 WLS.