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April 3, 2019. The Chicago Bulls were playing the Washington Wizards. In a one-point game with 14 seconds left, the Wizards prepared to inbound the ball. The Bulls only have four players on the court. The “coach” is at halfcourt calling out defensive adjustments but still does not realize he’s short one player. Why do they only have four players on the floor, you ask? Because Cristiano Felicio is at the Bulls bench on the other end of the court asking team coaches if they have a foul to give. The play starts and Felicio then comes flying into the picture like a confused gazelle. The pass goes inside and a foul is immediately committed to prevent the bucket.
The starting lineup for the Bulls that game? Shaq Harrison, Walter Lemon Jr., Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden and Robin Lopez.
January 15, 2021. Bulls vs. Thunder. The Bulls were up by 16 points with 4:40 to go. They gave up the lead. With a chance to win it in OT, Zach LaVine brings the ball up the floor. He gets to his spot at the top of the key and before he could rise up, Denzel Valentine pulls a Carlton Banks and tries to get the ball from Zach. Denzel ends up running into him and Zach forces a shot that misses everything. The Bulls lose.
October 29, 2018. Bulls vs. Warriors. Klay Thompson sauntered into the United Center, scored 52 points and hit an NBA record 14 3-pointers. He hit his 14th 3-pointer while bleeding profusely from his head. He put on a headband and continued on. It’s known as The Jackie Moon game. The Dubs had 92 points at the half. THE HALF! The next meeting on January 11, 2019, The Bulls lost even worse. You heard me. 146-109. They trailed by 26 points after the first quarter. A franchise record.
Over the past seven years there are many, many examples of the ineptitude fans were forced to endure. The 56-point loss to the Celtics that almost led to a mutiny. The Three Alphas (I didn’t mind this but I understand). Dancing on the bench during a game. Luke Kornet is Robert Horry. Bobby Portis punching Niko back to Spain. Second Round Picks and Cash Considerations. On and on and on. It’s been tough.
But then, the 2021-22 season happened. Demar Defreakin’ DeRozan has an All-NBA type year. Zach LaVine not only becomes an All-Star for a second straight year, he finally wins four games in a row in his NBA career. Hell, he had multiple 4+ game winning streaks. Ayo Dosumu looks like the steal of the draft. The Bulls are talked about on national TV without giggles and dismissive smirks but with pride and head-nodding respect. They then accomplished a goal the front office had for this season which was to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. Playoff basketball returning to the UC? Yup, it feels good. Real good.
Look, I’m not naive. The Bulls have struggled. They went 8-15 after the All-Star break. The offense and defense fell off. You know their record against the top teams in the East. And on top of all that, their opponents in the first round are the defending champs. A team with a Freak from Greece (Peace and Love to Nigeria) who has won 14 straight against the Bulls. It could get ugly. With all that said, I’d much rather them be in the playoffs and learn than be at home and try again next year. I’ll take the ass whipping. I’ll take the lesson. What I won’t take is watching another season of hot volcanic lava trash basketball from a team that I love. You can keep that.
Did the Bulls fall back to earth after the All-Star break? Yes. But to have that fall you have to be up that high in the first place. They couldn’t even walk previously.
Does this suck that they finished the season like they did? Absolutely. But this is the kind of pain I like. The pain of losing in the playoffs and not a meaningless regular season game in March because you are already out of contention. The pain of knowing your team is better than what they’ve shown. The pain of actually having to wait several months to see your team again because you know the joy that they gave you during the season. There’s a difference between the pain of this season as compared to the previous ones. This pain I accept. That pain I dreaded.
I am not here to tell you that I think the Bulls are going to make a deep run. But I am here to tell you to enjoy this. This is the process. This is how it looks. A team that was the laughing stock of the NBA for years is now having their first winning season in seven years and are in the playoffs. It hasn’t been pretty but I have seen much uglier.
I watched this team play two Sampsons. I watched Shaq Harrison start at the three. I watched Archi guard Giannis in the fourth quarter of a regular-season game and it was designed that way by the coach. So I will take every bit of this season for what it is and look forward to them coming back next season ready to improve on it. I continuously say “Enjoy this season, Bulls fans” because I mean it. I’m not against the criticism of the team, but I am against people saying this is the worst season. If you think this is the worst season you don’t know pain. But I do. I remember.