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Monday, January 17, 2011

6 titles in 8 years, but it could have been greater

"Football Armageddon" comes to Chicago on Sunday January 23rd when the Chicago Bears hosts its most bitter rival, the Green Bay Packers for the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. This has the potential to be the biggest single game in my lifetime as a Chicago sports fan. Two legendary franchises with a long history playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl is as big as it gets since the two can never play for a World Championship.  As the countdown to kickoff begins, one of the questions being kicked around Chicago is "Is this game the biggest single sporting event in Chicago history?"  While I can't speak to the days of the 60s and 70s, I can say in my lifetime, it is.  Now the next thought is , "How do the Bulls Dynasty get left off with 6 titles featuring the Greatest Player of All Time?"

As I wrote in first entry to this blog, the  1990-91 Bulls were my favorite team of all time. The years of pain, frustration were swept away (literally) when the Bulls "Four-oh'ed" the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the Finals to meet the Lakers. After an opening game loss, the Bulls swept the next four, including all three in the Forum. They say there is nothing like the first one, I can understand why. This started the Bulls dynasty rolling with only an abrupt retirement by MJ keeping the Bulls from an unheard of eight consecutive championships. Looking back on those championships, there were many great memories: The Pistons Sweep, MJ's Shrug Vs Portland, The Charles Smith Play vs the Knicks, The Flu Game, and the The Final Shot are all engrained in the minds of Bulls Fans. So why don't the Bulls get included in the discussion of Chicago's biggest sporting events? Let me explain.

Once the Bulls won the first title, it was the equivalent of trying to hold a cup of water in your hand. Once the first drop gets away, the rest of it is soon to follow.  Bird was gone, Magic was gone and MJ in his prime with a superior sidekick and Pip, and the Triangle at full tilt, there were no other challengers. The Bulls played 24 series to win those six titles. They were only pushed to a Game 7  TWICE. The first time was 1992 Eastern Conference Semis vs the Knicks. A physical intense series highlighted by hard fouls, near fights, trash talking, and two great coaches but in the end , MJ wasn't having it and dropped 42 in Game 7 to lead a blowout win. The second time was the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals vs thePacers and Reggie Miller (BIG SHOUTS TO MAN O-DOG FOR THIS ONE).  The Pacers led by as much as 15 in Game 7 with MJ and Pip having terrible nights. Despite a gas tank running near E, the Bulls summoned up everything they had and pulled out an 88-83 win to go to the finals where they would win title #6 over a tough Jazz outfit.

The Bulls dynasty always had the air of inevitability about them. No matter how good their opponent played, you never had the sense they were ever in real danger. Even in the Knicks series, you felt like in Game 7, MJ would just hit the afterburners and it would be done. The Pacers series was real danger because the Pacers had the balance,depth, and athletes to make it tough on the Bulls who were the oldest team in the league that year. As long as the trio of MJ/Pip/Phil were together, there just never was really a doubt. Maybe some sweat but never any fear.  A lot of basketball fans are weary of the Boston-LA rivalry but in truth Boston-LA embodies the best of sport and competition, it represents real rivalry. A rivalry is only a rivalry when the two sides are equally dangerous to each other. That danger then breeds contempt and fear because one side knows the other is more than able to keep them from winning a championship. Bird's Celtics were every bit the equal of Magic's Lakers and fast forward that to current days  KG/Paul's Celtics are every bit the equal of Kobe/Phil's Lakers. The games are competitive because of the balance on both sides. Boston and LA , despite their hatred, know the other side is just as capbable of winning the title as the other.  The Bulls dynasty lacked that. Were the Knicks, Pacers, and Jazz tough? Of course.....Did you ever think they would beat the Bulls? Not really...

As i have matured as a sports fan, its no longer about "my team winning" or "my team is better than yours". While i am true to my Chicago teams, I find myself being less of a homer. I root for great games, competition and to see the greatest players on their greatest stage instead of a favorable result. When the Bulls lost to Celtics in the first round of 2009 playoffs, i was not that disappointed. Bulls had played hard for seven games and tested the defending World Champions to their limit. Watching the latest edition of Boston-LA in the '10 Finals was everything you want as a basketball, hard fought games, great shot making, intense defense, roaring crowds. A True rivalry. The Bulls never had a real rival because you knew who was going to win in the end. Watching the Greatest of All Time was a treat, the celebrations were awesome, the performances breathtaking and of course the ability to talk trash to the New Yorkers i went to school with was the best. I wouldn't change those times for the world, except I would have given the Bulls tougher opponents. Here is what i would have changed. Would the Bulls have still won the 6 titles? Probably so but it would have been more fun and more of a challenge

1991- Instead of the Lakers, with Kareem gone and Magic and Worthy past their primes. I would have like to seen the Bulls vs the Spurs. A young and athletic Admiral , with a great wing scorer in Sean Elliott, and the point God, Rod Strickland. along with the long wingman Willie Anderson to try to slow down Jordan. The old Hemisfair Arena was a "bogey" arena for the Bulls but feel they could have gotten one there
 Prediction: Bulls in 6 

1992-  No change here, Portland was best possible matchup. Unfortunately, MJ was hellbent on ethering Clyde Drexler

1993- Phoenix led by MVP Charles Barkley was the best team in the NBA , at least record wise but let's exchange Phoenix for Houston who won 55. The Dream in his prime surrounded by three-point shooters and a building in The Summit that the Bulls routinely struggled with. This would have been a tougher series than you think. Especially with Houston having the one guy who could make MJ lose his mind: Vernon Maxwell.
Prediction: Bulls in 6

1996-Wouldnt change the Finals matchup of Seattle but George Karl should have played Gary Payton on MJ like any coach would have it would have been a bit more challenging. , instead let Horace Grant  have been 100% healthy for the Eastern Conference Finals and Nick Anderson have made the FT's in 1995 finals. Nick wasnt the same after those misses but i digress.

 1997-  instead of Utah, match the Bulls up with the Rockets led by Dream/Clyde/Chuck..With MJ/Pip/Rodman , you would have 6 stars all past their primes but all capable of still coming up with special performances...The amount of trash talking would be Epic but Dream would would have been too busy turning the Bulls Centers around like a top. Compaq Center, like the Summit, always tough on Bulls
Prediction: Bulls in 7

1998- instead of Utah, let's pit the Bulls against who else but the Los Angeles Lakers.  Shaq entering his prime, an All-Star guard Eddie Jones, the mercurial Nick Van Exel, along with Rick Fox, Robert Horry, and D-Fish. But the main attraction is MJ at age 35 dueling with the budding star of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers would have been the greatest combo of athletics and skill the Bulls ever saw and the youngest. Could the Bulls coming off a grueling series with Pacers had enough in the tank to deal with the Lake Show? There would have been no better finish to MJ's career than conquering the Diesel and the Heir to the Throne. Game 7 of this series still would be the highest ever rated game
Prediction: Bulls in 7 


  1. Good points Ron C! I would have to say that the Bulls Dynasty/Bulls v. Celtics is the biggest sporting event in Chi history for me. They epresented way to many good childhood memories and sparks nostalgia. Besides, how can U have select 2011 Bears v. Packers over 85' Bears when we had Walter 'the GOAT' Payton exciting fans every sunday! Just my opinion.

  2. Good Looking TJ! the 1985 bears as a whole season was the greatest ever as a fan and will always be legendardy...but as just one single game this sunday is as big as we ever had