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Make no doubt about it, this past season of Chicago Bulls basketball was infuriating. Watching a team that consisted of three key guys who couldn’t play with each other can really drain the life out of any basketball fan. Especially for a fanbase that saw this calamity coming from miles away. Every game was met with the small glimmer of hope that they tank for a better draft pick in order to build a future around Jimmy Butler. Then the Bulls went ahead and did the thing they weren’t suppose to do, which was make the playoffs.
Yet as soon as the graphic “Bulls vs. Celtics Game 1” flashed on my television I suddenly felt this rush of adrenaline and found myself rooting for this team. It wasn’t just feeling happy that they were beating Boston, but it was clapping whenever Robin Lopez grabbed a rebound and yelling in joy when Bobby Portis caught fire from the field. It brought back feeling of being a fan of the team and not just someone who just casually watches the Bulls. For those two games, watching Bulls basketball was fun again.
Unlike most Bulls fans I did not have the pleasure of watching Michael Jordan bring Chicago an NBA title let alone play basketball for them. I was born in the summer of 1998, right after Jordan and company had captured their 6th title so my Bulls fandom wasn’t entirely part of Jordan. I attended my first game in 2005 when the Bulls were beaten by the Dallas Mavericks, a very good team I must add. But I really didn’t get into basketball until till five years later. That was the year 2009 and the Chicago Bulls were set to play the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Remember that Bulls team? It was a weird cast of characters with Ben Gordon, Brad Miller, Luol Deng, a very young Joakim Noah, John Salmons (who is one of my favorite Bulls ever), and oh, some rookie named Derrick Rose. That series was unforgettable. I remember listening to Game 1 while my family was traveling and going crazy when Tyrus Thomas went off to help the Bulls in an OT win. My other fond memory was staying up late listening to Game 6 on the radio (I didn’t get cable TV till two years later). Listening to the call of Noah dunking on Paul Pierce, Rose blocking Rajon Rondo and then subsequently missing those two free throws to add to the drama. To see this underdog team that many thought had no chance in this series fight and claw their way back to force a Game 7 was unreal. I’m always a sucker for underdog stories and seeing a local team achieve that was perfect.
That Game 7 is forever removed from my memory just like any other painful Chicago sports memory.
After that series, my interest in basketball began to pick up slowly, gaining steam every subsequent year.
Say what you want about Tom Thibodeau and his Bulls teams but they were a really gritty team. That team that made the Eastern Conference Finals are to this date my favorite Bulls team ever. Tough as nails defensively and an MVP Derrick Rose made it something worth watching. Every game was something else. It either took a monster game from Rose, a late game sequence of great defense, and many times, both to finish off opponents. It was great. Something about those Bulls teams just making the game ugly and mucky was thrilling to watch for some reason.
A lot of moments flash back when I think about my time in middle school/first two years of high school watching Thibs and the Bulls. Like when Kyle Korver hitting that go ahead three in Game 1 against Indiana in 2011 to cap off a crazy last minute comeback. I’ve rewatched that comeback at least 40 times. Watching Taj Gibson dunk all over Dwayne Wade in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was another one of those clips you just have to watch every once in a while. Let’s not forget about D-Rose’s winner over the Lakers on Christmas Day (then blocking Kobe the following possession). This is where I also learned to appreciate Jimmy Butler. Watching him battle LeBron during the 2013-14 playoffs was like watching David trying to slay Goliath. Although the Bulls fell short in that series, there was a silver lining in knowing that there was hope in Butler and what he brought to the table. It was all fun memories to look back on even though everything about that team ended so poorly.
Being a fan of the Chicago Bulls is really complicated and hard to explain. Rooting against a team only because of disdain towards management is really weird but that’s something only Bulls fans get. Like I said, I never watched any of six championships brought to Chicago by MJ himself. But watching those Thibs teams along with that rag-tag team in 2009 gave me some hope. A hope that one day in the future the Bulls will be good enough to make it back to the NBA Finals and come out victorious. Watching other Chicago teams winning titles in their respective sports was nice and it always makes me think about the next time the Bulls will get to the pinnacle of basketball success once again. That’ll happen one day, hopefully.
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