A few days ago, I received a long and impassioned comment from By The Horns reader Spencer G. He had a lot to say, but the line that struck me the hardest — in a Shaq-sized fist between the eyes kind of way — was this: “I’ve been a Bulls fan for 30 years now (I’m 35) and it’s the worst I’ve felt about our direction…ever.”
Sweet grandmother’s spatula! That’s quite a statement, especially considering that Spencer managed to survive those post-Jordan, Tim Floyd-led Bulls teams that won 13, 15 and 17 games in gloomy, I hate-myself-for-loving-you succession. From 72 wins to 13 in four seasons? How depressing was that? In comparison, the Bulls have already won 18 games in 2008-09 and have a decent chance to reach 30-35 victories. That’s not great. Heck, it’s not even mediocre. But it’s not as bad as it was in the not-too-distant past.
And while it should be noted that the 13-win squad played during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they finished the year with a starting lineup of Tony Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dickey Simpkins, Corey Carr and Rusty LaRue with Charles Jones, Mark Bryant and Corey Benjamin all getting double-digit minutes off the bench. It’s hard to imagine this year’s club being even remotely as awful as that motley crew of NBA journeymen and hoops mannequins.
But that’s not the point, is it? The point is: This team feels worse than those others. To Spencer, anyway. And he’s not alone. I did a Google search for “Chicago Bulls” and “hate,” and look what I found: A Chicago Tribune blog post by Melissa Isaacson entitled Booing The Bulls II. It was published last week, and it featured some write-in comments from Missy’s readers. Here are a few excerpts. [Warning: Undiluted rage and bitterness ahead; proceed with caution!]
First there was this: “I hate this team. I think it is the worst Chicago pro team ever! Even when our teams [stink, which is always] they always give effort and play hard like winning or losing actually matters. This Bulls team is the most selfish I have ever seen that doesn’t [care] about whether or not it loses. Each player is only worried about one thing; themselves. Hughes, Gordon, Gooden, Thomas all they care about is getting up as many shots as possible and what their individual stats are at the end of the game. They could not care less about whether they won the game or not. I am 40 years old and I’ve never hated a Chicago team as much as I hate these Bulls. ”
Then there was this: “Have the Bulls hit rock bottom? Kind of like the stock market, we hope so but the market keeps sliding. In all seriousness, I’ve stopped watching and that’s a pretty bad sign. I started watching the Bulls full time around 1979 and in that time the only time I couldn’t watch was about year three of [Eddy] Curry, Tyson [Chandler] and [Jamal] Crawford. This team has more talent but [Ben] Gordon’s selfish play, Larry [Hughes] being Larry and everyone else but [Derrick] Rose being kind of immature clock-punching jokers makes it pretty hard to watch.”
Things didn’t get better with this: “Not only is this the low point since ’07, this team is approaching Tim Floyd territory. You can expect good teams to be up by 20 points by the end of the first quarter on a regular basis from now on. … I just hope Rose doesn’t get contaminated by the stench of this slop we’re witnessing.”
The vitriol didn’t stop there, but I think you get the point. The feelings are strong, and they are angry. Which completely contradicts this article by Mike Imrem of the Daily Herald in which Mike assumes that John Paxson’s job is (relatively) safe because the fans have stopped caring. But, in fact, it seems that the very opposite is true: Fans care so much that they can barely stomach watching the Bulls fail, even if it’s by only a few points to a clearly superior team (such as, recently, the Spurs and Hawks).
That’s Chicago sports fandom for you. The Cubs entered the playoffs as one of the best regular-season teams in Major League Baseball and the White Sox made it into the postseason on the basis of a late-season rally and a one-game mini-playoff-to-make-the-playoffs. But when the teams were upended in the first round, the city turned on them with extreme prejudice (including one Cubs fan who sold his loyalty to the team on eBay!)
And take the Bears. Make no mistake, this was a rebuilding year. Management invested nothing on the perpetually putrid offense except a first round pick on a lineman who had an existing back condition (and, indeed, he injured it and missed the entire season). So, naturally, most people had the team pegged for three, maybe four wins at the most. Yet the team went 9-7 and were a single win away from a wildcard playoff spot. I would say that winning three times as many games as predicted should have been a cause for wild celebration. Instead? More doom and gloom as the city called for coach Lovie Smith’s head.
Look, I get it. I’m frustrated too. But remember, building a winning team isn’t an exact science. It takes time, effort and lots of luck. It wasn’t that long ago that the Boston Celtics — including GM Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers — were in almost the exact same position as the Bulls, and look at them now. I’m not saying the same thing is likely to happen here. It probably won’t. But try to keep in mind that professional sports teams do not exist to validate our existence through winning. Winning is nice, for sure, but their primary purpose is to entertain us.
I mean, think about it. The Cavaliers, Celtics, Lakers and Magic are all much, much better than the Bulls. However, all but one of those teams (I’m guessing) are going to end their season the same way the Bulls will finish theirs: By not winning the league championship. I mean, every NBA campaign has the same final act: One winner, 29 not-winners. That doesn’t mean those 29 teams are all failures. (Not all of them, anyway.)
We knew there would be tough times going into this season. Our coach is a rookie. Our best player is a rookie. Other than Rose, our roster is almost identical to last year’s 33-win team. And, in all fairness, we have lost a lot of player games due to injury (primarily to Hinrich, Deng and Gooden). Look, there are worse things than being stuck on 18 wins and almost beating division leaders (like the Spurs) and playoff-bound teams (like the Hawks). Just ask fans of the Clippers, Thunder and Wizards.
So keep your heads up, people. Better times are coming. I just know it. I mean, we get to play the Raptors tonight! (I will now try to ignore the upcoming seven-game road trip that includes games at Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans and Dallas.)