So, it is pretty rare that I straight go for the personal blog post here, but this is pretty near and dear to my heart.
I am a big fan of the Chicago Bulls. I was born and raised in Illinois, and with a brother who is six years older than me, I was raised on the Bulls championships of the 1990s. I had Bulls t-shirts as a little girl, I remember watching championships, we went to eat at the Michael Jordan restaurant multiple times. I remember thinking MJ had really good taste in child-food favorites. I remember thinking his hand on the menu was HUGE. I remember my brother buying Air Jordans.
I will admit, as a teenage girl, that fandom didn’t translate well through a series of mediocre Bulls teams and bigger girl concerns. But for the past few years, since I moved to Chicago, I have followed the team closely again.
Last year was of course a big deal for our team, (yes, I will use possessive pronouns throughout this. Yes, I feel a completely unreasonable tie to them. Deal with my sport fandom.) I have been to multiple games since living here, and I adore the United Center and its vibe. And while I care about other sports teams, (Cubs, Blackhawks,) the Bulls and basketball will always first and foremost hold a place in my heart. That being said, I am mildly ignorant about anything that isn’t my team, I will admit that freely. The sport as a whole is a whole lot less interesting than the team I root for to me.
So last year, while I vaguely knew about LeBron, was a crash course in him. Which automatically led me to hate him. Leaving Cleveland in the manner he did made him a villain, and rather than try to restore his position in the good graces of his fans, he seemed to embrace it at every turn. I don’t have a lot of judgment on him that I wish to share with the whole world even though I don’t like him, but what I say is based on his behavior last year and my resentment on his comparison to Jordan, which is unwarranted and at least ungrounded by his record as a player at this point. Sorry, I will always prefer MJ, even if he is somewhat of a jerk, I will always remember his crazy skills and closing ability as legendary (and yes, I have re-watched much of that basketball as an adult so I’m not saying this all from my childhood perspective.) That being said, SI’s cover article this week (go here to read,) was quite good about LeBron, and definitely eased my dislike some.
All the same, I was really looking forward to a much better Bulls-Heat pairing in playoffs this year than last year. I of course wanted the Bulls to win, but I was hoping for some truly spectacular basketball. Not only that, for the first time in years, our team was genuinely amazing, genuinely stood a good shot at this championship.
So last night’s game and Derrick Rose’s torn ACL was pretty devastating to me, the Bulls fans and the city of Chicago. For Chicago fans, it is so hard not to love Rose. He is hyper-talented, he united a team lacking guidance here, and he is humble to the point of disliking fame. This is the reason we, myself included, wear his number, scream his name, the reason the team has been rebuilt around him. He doesn’t party or throw around his money and fame, and he is truly a role model. The anti-thesis to villainy.
He was born and raised here and has committed to stay with the Bulls longterm because he loves this city like we do. And I think it is safe to say that Chicago is mourning for him. I am heartbroken to think not just of the effect of this on the championships, on next season, or his basketball career; I am heartbroken for him in particular. Not only does he have to wait days for surgery, (can you imagine living with that kind of pain for days?) and the pain of rehabilitation and training and the possibility things will never be the same, but I worry that he wouldn’t ever be the same if, god forbid, he never gets back the game. He was on the cover of GQ this month, (read here,) which painted a beautiful picture of his timidity and how much he loves the game and hates the fame, making one feel like he is truly the one person in basketball who deserves to play, because it isn’t about the money for him, and it isn’t about which city will give him the best paycheck. This loyalty and this humility is why Chicago loves him.
Which is why, as a big fan, it was hard to read a lot of the things that fans of other teams had to say about his injury. While other teams, especially their opponent, released statements hoping he was alright, the fans of other teams were in many ways not so kind. Something along the lines of “Things Stronger Than DRose’s Body” trended nationwide on Twitter. Heat fans were particularly cruel because of the rivalry, and the most common comment I saw from them was that they were upset because now people aren’t going to give LeBron the credit he deserves when he wins this championship because they’re going to say he didn’t go through DRose. Perhaps they just bask in villainy as lovers of a team that deliberately tried to build its image on the bad boys of the NBA vibe, but frankly, I don’t think LeBron would even consider being this obtuse. As a city, this championship is not what’s being mourned, it’s the pain of someone we think embodies us and exemplifies our city. The fact that all these fans could think about when the youngest and brightest star and emerging talent in the league was seriously injured, (in a way that has ended careers in the past,) was how this could hurt the spin on their own “guaranteed” win was disgusting to me. If I wasn’t a Bulls fan, that still wouldn’t have been my reaction. And why does the injury of a great player automatically turn into “How can this be an advantage to my team?” Doesn’t anyone care about the quality, about watching good basketball anymore? Because frankly, I want to watch some real competition. And regardless of who you are a fan of, Rose being out of the game is damaging to both of those.
It also bothered me that our fans blamed Thibs. Rose wanted to be in, and we all know that because we know Rose. We know he looks uncomfortable every time he has to sit on that bench instead of playing. Not only that, he needed to gain his footing, he needed to play like his old self again, he needed to close again, and I’m willing to bet money he wouldn’t blame Thibs for a second. Thibs is exactly who has brought our team together in Rose’s absence, and we shouldn’t forget it.
That being said, I also think it is a mistake for everyone else to immediately discount the Bulls from these playoffs. No, we probably won’t win the championship. But Rose was out for a lot of this season, we played 18-9 without him altogether, and a number of those games he did play, he didn’t play normal minutes, and he didn’t play DRose basketball, scoring a career low at one point. The Bulls were the best team in the regular season NBA this year because they were the best team. Last year Rose carried this team on his shoulders, but this year he did not. I’ve heard a lot of arguments of, well he’s not the MVP then. And he earned that title last year, but Bulls fans aren’t arguing he’s the MVP this season, he’s barely played. Our team is no longer one being held up on his Atlas-like back. Instead, we came together this season beyond his skills and proved that our bench is deep and without Rose, without Deng, without any huge star on the court, we can still win games against great teams. It is wrong for other fans to discount us because if they do, then they clearly weren’t watching regular season basketball, and that was when nothing was on the line. Now that they have an injured comrade, and a real fire to prove everyone wrong, we just don’t know, they could really go somewhere.
My hope? Last year, the Bulls wore the Heat down insanely before they reached finals in conference finals. Even if it won’t be us winning that championship, I hope we can do the same thing as the amazing team that has developed this short season. I hope Lucas steps up in Rose’s absence like he has so many times this season, and I hope the Bulls at least break some Heat momentum. And maybe that’s cruel to say, but I can’t lie, after the reactions I saw yesterday, I hope more than ever that the Heat don’t win, mostly because you all seem to think you’re entitled to that ring and it’s in the bag, not that it is something that is earned. And it should be earned. And if the Bulls can help that again this year, then good.
But most of all, I think as a city we are all rooting for Derrick to get better. We want you to be healthy again. We want you to play again. But mostly, we care that you’re ok because we love you, not because of the basketball, because you remind us all why Chicago is great and remind us all what hard work can do. And not one of your fans can wait until we see you playing on that United Center court in that Bulls red again. Always number 1 baby.