The Bulls are pretty much the only team anyone in Chicago gives a shit about right now, so of course I'm cheering for them. I will be the first to admit though that for many years, I only paid attention to them when they reached the post-season, so I can't act like I've been behind the lineup the entire time. I think Derrick Rose and crew are terrific, but while they're my home team, they're not my team, which is both a relief (the games so far haven't been causing me anxiety-induced intestinal distress) and bittersweet, since I remember very well the days when the Chicago Bulls meant a great, great deal to me.
I had dinner with my friend Meghan recently, who I've known since kindergarten. "I think it's funny that I start watching NBA basketball twenty years after I stopped and they play all the same song clips and sound effects," I said. Meghan started imitating the stomp-stomp-clap sound effect the stadiums play when a ball's being brought up the court. I said I couldn't believe that "Whoomp! There is Is" is still relevant somewhere. There's the same Benny the Bull, Luv-a-Bulls, "Rock n' Roll, Part 3," same "Another One Bites the Dust" when the Bulls win at home. We've grown up and changed a lot but in several ways, the game has not.
But of course, my old Chicagoland friends and I don't mind this sameness at all. It helps take us back to where we were 20 years ago, which was the last time the Bulls were this far in the playoffs. We were 12 years old when the Bulls won their first championship. Twelve is an age where things that are cool are VERY important to you. Bulls aside, professional basketball in and of itself was cool in 1991: to my mind, the new golden era of the sport coincided with a full-on mainstreaming of hip-hop culture. It was just good marketing that the songs we liked to dance to got played on NBA Inside Stuff and during game timeouts. Black, white, boys, girls, athletic or inept, we all bought the shoes, played basketball, watched basketball. Basketball was exciting, basketball was cool, basketball was coincidentally what everyone else at school was also into so it actually behooved us to care.
But what was fun was that, if basketball itself was cool, in the early '90's, Chicago was the center of cool. We of course worshiped Michael Jordan, but we loved all the guys around him too over the seasons: Scottie and Dennis and Horace and Stacey and BJ and John and Will and Bill. And it wasn't just us: our parents, teachers, coaches and priests all cared about the team as well. It was something we could all talk about. The whole city was buzzing. I loved how the entire city rallied around the team when they were in the finals: the papers ran punny ads about them (During a series against Portland, Chevy placed ads that said THE BLAZERS MUST GO) and the skyscrapers turned off their lights according to design to spell out BULLS at night.
The night the Bulls won their first championship, at home with my parents, with no other way to express myself, I grabbed a spoon and a pot and ran to the window and screamed and banged, and nothing in the world could have seemed more thrilling or satisfying. Not only had we won, the Bulls were making Chicago history and Michael Jordan was making history. Even now that I'm older and have access to more mature means of celebration, it's hard to imagine a surge of such unfettered joy.
I'm writing this during the fourth quarter in Game Six of the playoffs and it looks like the Bulls will probably beat the Hawks and then go on to play the Heat, which is going to send me on a whole other emotional journey (namely, that the Bulls represent Good and the Heat Evil and thus the Bulls MUST win) but it's a purely 2011 emotion. All us former 12-year-old are 32-year-olds, now and have a lot of other things on our minds aside from basketball, but this young team, so humble and hardworking compared to their last set of rivals of the season, makes us happy to remember the days when the game was one of the only things that mattered.
(Now, here is a picture of my brother, some Luv-a-Bulls, MJ and the side of my head).