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What up, Bulls Nation. How ’bout the first two games of this series, huh? I’m not going to get too longwinded this week. The focus should be on the games, and enjoying them as fans in the moment. Because that’s what this is all about, right?
So I’ll just share one simple realization I had while watching Game 2 of the Bulls-Bucks series at our CHGO studios with Big Dave and a few of our CHGO friends on Wednesday night. It’s the Pecking Order.
I forgot what it felt like.
Last week, Dave beautifully offered our fellow Bulls fans some necessary perspective as we neared the team’s first playoff series in five years. In his column, he repeated a very simple phrase: “I remember.”
While some fans [admittedly myself included] were coming into the playoffs with a negative attitude and an expectation for the Bucks to make mincemeat of the seemingly broken Bulls, Dave offered us all a reminder of just how far this team has come in two short years. He still remembers the laugh-cringe levels of pathetic this team was before Arturas, Marc and Billy came to town and started fixing things. He remembers the Denzel moments, the Felicio moments. The nights when you’d say to yourself, “I’m about to watch Antonio Blakeney take 20 shots. Speaking of shots … is there any liquor nearby to help me get through this?”
Big Dave remembers, because it wasn’t that long ago. I remember too. Unfortunately, it will take a long time — and some more winning — to erase those memories that have burned their way into my brain. There’s clearly a correlation between remembering the painful days of yesteryear and forgetting the fun ones from long ago. The older you get, the more brain space becomes a serious commodity. You can only fit so much in there, and it’s easier to remember the stuff that’s more recent.
I realized on Wednesday I had forgotten something big. I forgot what it felt like to watch Bulls games that matter. Really matter. I treaded lightly into Game 1, prepared for the worst. So I wasn’t fully in my element of no-holds-barred Bulls fandom. Even as the Bulls made that run to briefly take the lead in the third quarter, I still held myself back from being all the way in. The final result hurt, but I had prepared for it and — quite honestly — the whole thing felt so foreign that I spent most of the evening trying to wrap my mind around it.
Then Game 2 happened. And I went all the way in. In case you missed it on social media, have a look for yourself:
Yeah. That’s what I look like [well, minus the fast-forward speed and the Alvin and the Chipmunks voice] when I’m plugged into a Bulls game that matters. It’s how I grew up watching and interacting with their games. I was all-in a lot back then, watching Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson win playoff battle after playoff battle.
Standing [and sometimes squatting] with my hands over the bridge of my nose as a player brings the ball up the floor at the start of every possession. Clenching every muscle every time a player drives the lane and draws contact to see if a) the ball goes in the hoop and/or b) a whistle blows. Breathlessly freezing my body in place when a shot goes up, knowing that the impending result in milliseconds will send me either into a momentary state of sheer bliss or crumbling into a ball of agony. Furiously pacing whatever room I’m in during every brief stoppage in play. Every breath feels like twenty. Every minute of basketball feels like a lifetime.
That’s NBA playoff basketball. That’s the Bulls playoff basketball that raised me. After being so spoiled to experience it annually as my childhood love for the Bulls and basketball grew, those moments have been fleeting in my adult life. Some younger Bulls fans have barely ever felt that feeling, with just five playoff series wins in the 24 years since the dynasty ended. That’s not a lot of games that matter.
But when you find yourself immersed in one of those games…wow. What a feeling. I’ve been on a lot of actual roller coasters in my life, and they don’t compare to the one the Bulls treated me to on Wednesday night. I was up, I was down, I was up again. I didn’t know if the next play was going to make me hurl or forcefully slap a childlike grin across my face and send me bounding around the studio with glee. When the roller coaster ended and I exited the ride, my legs felt like Jell-O underneath me. Utterly exhausted, I had to catch my breath and walk a calmer lap or two around the studio to try to unwind. Emphasis on try.
Because I remember all the same painful things Dave does, I forgot that part. After years of wallowing in either the apathy or frustration of rooting for a franchise stuck at rock bottom, my brain had fully detached from the other feelings. The ones that make us fans in the first place. The excitement of hope, mixed in with the nervousness of uncertainty, as you cheer with friends and family for the team you love. In a game that matters. To me, that defines being a sports fan.
I forgot what that felt like.
I remember now.
See Red. Be Good. See you at Third Rail Tavern for Game 3.
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