During Chicago’s first round playoff series against the Pacers, Carlos Boozer was getting shelled by Bulls fans who were unhappy with his relative lack of output. Had it been a 1930s creature feature, Boozington would have been hiding at the top of a windmill surrounded by a mob of pitchfork-wielding villagers.
The reaction was strong and disproportionate. Boozer was being portrayed like some kind of cartoon bandit sneaking offwith bags of money in the dark of night. Sure, he struggling to score, but his rebounding numbers were strong. And it wasn’t like he set fire to the locker room or slipped laxatives into Derrick Rose’s breakfast cereal.
Booz was hurt and slumping…but he was trying.
Tom Thibodeau’s response: “He’s a lightning rod. The guy played 26 minutes (in Game 1 of the Pacers series) and he gets blamed for everything. Carlos is a terrific player. He started off Game 1 very aggressively. He got into some foul trouble and then he was limited. He has to stay aggressive. But he wasn’t responsible for all our defense (in Game 1); I can assure you that.”
Thibodeau’s comments were generally disregarded. The assault continued. Even former Bull Horace Grant jumped on the dogpileand said Thibs should bench Boozer. It got so bad during the Hawks series that Joakim Noah publically asked fans to stop booing his teammate:
“Carlos is in a situation where he’s hurt and he’s giving us everything he can. I’ve been in the position where I’ve been booed before in the United Center and I know to get to where we want to get to, we need Carlos. We should be supporting him. I don’t understand that.
“Not a lot of people know what that feels like to be a worker, work hard and be in position where you get booed by your home crowd. Booz is an emotional player. The crowd has a lot to do with his game. He enjoys that. I enjoy playing to the crowd. The crowd has a big impact on what we do. We realize that. I just want to show some support for my teammate and what he’s going through right now, because I don’t think it’s fair.”
Boozer finally emerged from his slump with a 23-point performance (on 10-for-16 shooting) as the Bulls eliminated the Hawks in Game 6 in Atlanta. Then Booz gave it up for his teammates:
“I love my teammates, man. We’ve been defending each other all season, no matter who was going through what throughout the course of the year. We’ve always had each other’s back. We’re all like a family. A lot of people say that, but we really are. It felt great to have everybody on my side that’s in this locker room and that’s how we’ve been all season. And we don’t listen to what you guys write about, talk about, we listen to each other. And we focus on what we talk about.
“When you have your teammates out there with you, you know the guy behind you has your back, he knows that you have his back. That’s what a team is supposed to do.”
It was subsequently revealed that, last summer, Boozer wanted to come to Chicago and let the Bulls know it. According to Noah, Boozer’s attitude was in direct opposition to that of Chris Bosh.
Said Noah: “Hewas a nice guy and all. But Bosh was more into, ‘Well it depends on what this guy does, what that guy does.’ Booz knew this was where he wanted to be. I liked that.”
Added Boozer: “I just told Jo that if I leave Utah, this is where I want to come. I was like, ‘You and I could lock down the middle. D-Rose’s potential is through the roof. And Luol (Deng) is a versatile as anybody.’ … We can ride out and do some good things.”
As it happens, they did ride out and have done some good things.
With the potential to do some great things.
This is why, despite my occasional doubts, I’m behind Boozer 100 percent. He arrived in Chicago with the reputation of being a 20-10 guy. Because of that, fans start to get twitchy when he doesn’t score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds. But here’s the thing: The Jazz needed 20-10 from Boozer and they struggled to win when he didn’t give it to them.
This Bulls team isn’t built like that. They need Carlos to be an inside threat and contribute to winning however he can. Sometimes that means going for 20 points, or hauling down 10 rebounds, or cheering on Taj Gibson from the bench. Which he has done and will continue to do, by the way.
I know about Boozer’s spotty history — specifically his questionable departure from Cleveland— but he has been an ideal teammate this season. He accepts his role and supports his teammates. Many guys with Boozer’s pedigree and large contract would probably sulk about losing fourth quarter minutes to their backup. But when Taj Gibson throws down a monster dunk, Booz is right there, jumping up off the bench to slap palms.
People need to understand that this Bulls team is exceptionally close. That, as much as anything else, has contributed to the winning environment that has been created. I understand that stats are important. And, with the growing use of advanced metrics, fans and experts get riled up when they aren’t seeing the numbers they expect.
But nobody on this team cares about stats. They care about each other and they care about winning. That’s it. Every single player on the Bulls has Boozer’s back. That’s important. So is the fact that Boozer wants to be here and is committed to the team over everything else. Even his own numbers and pride. It makes him the perfect fit for this situation even if he isn’t averaging a 20-10.
So, even if he struggles again, I’m going to have Boozer’s back as long as his team believes in him.