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Pecking Order: One week of my Bulls fandom, from the mountaintop in Paris to rock bottom in Charlotte
What up, Bulls Nation. Been a while since I sat down to write something. But with everything going on recently, figured it was time. It’s crazy how much can change in just one week. My head is still spinning like a top.
Last Thursday, we were in Paris on the trip of a lifetime. I finally met my Bulls idol Joakim Noah — more on that later — and we watched from a sold-out Accor Arena as the Bulls put on a show and beat up the lowly Detroit Pistons. High-fiving and hugging Bulls fans from all over the world. What a magical day. One of the best days in my 30+ years of Bulls fandom.
This Thursday, we sat in our CHGO studio and watched the Bulls lose their second consecutive game to an underwhelming opponent in a nauseating fashion. Blowing a 21-point lead to the Pacers, then blowing a 10-point lead to a Hornets team having one of the worst shooting nights of their miserable season. How? Why?
Thank goodness for Big Dave’s angelic voice and brilliant impromptu lyrical musing. Without that, I may have finally snapped Thursday night. [OK, fine, I still kinda snapped. It’s what I do.] For real, though. Talk about plummeting from one of the best highs of my life to one of the worst, most depressing lows.
It all happened so fast.
Before we get to the depressing rock bottom part — and what the hell the Bulls should do now — let’s relive once more the glory of that cold, overcast day in Paris.
[WATCH THE FULL DOCUMENTARY OF OUR CHGO IN PARIS TRIP BELOW]
Before we left for Paris, Big Dave told me it would happen. “Matt. If he’s there, we’re meeting him.”
Me: “Man, how crazy would that be. If it happens…”
Dave: “No ‘if’. It’s happening.”
Me: [to myself] “Deep breaths, don’t get your hopes up too high.”
I put on my wardrobe at our Airbnb as we get ready to leave for the Paris NBA House. First, the “I never heard anybody say I’m going to Cleveland on vacation” shirt. [Shout-out to Joe and the great people at Obvious Shirts!] On top of that, my “many faces of Joakim Noah” shirt. I’m prepared for the moment, if it comes. On our walk to the NBA House, RG had the camera on me and asked me where we were going. I told him we were going to the NBA House. Joey chimed in, “…and who’s going to be there, Peck???”
“I DON’T WANNA JINX IT, JOE!”
In that moment of anticipation, I couldn’t say his name. I was too excited for the chance it might happen, and I didn’t want any assumption that it would happen to jinx it. I had to keep my mind occupied with other thoughts. So we arrive at the NBA House and proceed to wander around. We take some pictures in front of the six championship trophies, we look at framed items from Bulls history mounted on the walls: sneakers, jerseys, a piece of the hardwood from the old Chicago Stadium signed by the team. Dave and I talk to a big fan of the show, who’s there with his wife — shout-out, Jon!
A few minutes later, the emcee of the event begins talking to the crowd from his microphone. I don’t speak French and can’t understand a word he’s saying. But the cadence of his voice sounds like he’s building to something. Then he says the two words I thought might be coming. Two words I will ALWAYS understand until my last breath:
And there he was.
Walking into the building, head-and-shoulders taller than everyone else. I swear to MJ, the man levitated. He glided through space and time. A titan gracing us mere mortals with his presence.
Then Tony Parker walks in behind Joakim. The two of them start playing a halfcourt game of three-on-three with some French F1 drivers. [At first, I had no idea who those guys were. I’m not a big racing fan. RG pointed out who they were. I thought they were just some lucky nobodies, picked at random to play pickup with Jo and Tony. Lucky bastards. Should’ve been me.]
It’s just a silly game of pickup. Nobody is wearing basketball shorts. Joakim has a watch the size of my head on his wrist and a feathery rainbow bucket hat on his head. You wouldn’t think of this as a “try hard” game situation. But all of you out there reading in Bulls Nation know one thing for certain about Joakim: it’s never NOT a “try hard” game.
Jo was flying around that makeshift court. Help defense, grabbing every rebound, setting hard screens. He had an and-1 that made the crowd erupt. Watching from the barricade on the left side of the court, I yelled, “AND-1!!!” as Jo yelled the same thing almost in unison. It was a beautiful moment. I thought to myself, “Man, I really miss watching this guy play.”
Joakim’s team ended up losing to Tony’s team 7-6 after some questionable score-keeping and officiating from the emcee. After offering congratulations to his opponents and condolences to his teammates, Jo removed himself and sat alone in the far corner of the court. He took a deep breath, put his hood up over his head, and stared down at the floor with his hands on his knees. Another beautiful moment, and another thought to myself, “Man, this dude still cares…and these current Bulls could use a guy like him.”
Joakim gets up to the exit the court area, and we start to move toward him from the other side of the court barricade. He’s walking through a crowd of fans and media, shaking hands and smiling. We’re getting closer to him. Fifteen feet away.
I let Dave step in front of me. This is how it’s gonna work. Everyone loves Dave, even if they haven’t met him yet. No way Jo can ignore Dave and walk away. Me? Easy to walk away from LOL.
Ten feet. Jo shakes another hand, snaps a quick selfie with somebody. Five feet.
Dave steps up to Jo and greets him. Almost immediately, as Jo gives Dave a handshake and a smile, it looks from my vantage point like Jo is about to keep on moving past Dave and away from me. Then Dave takes a slight step to prevent Jo from moving on, pivots in my direction and says, “This is my guy Matt. He’s a colossal fan.”
And then it happened.
Did I die? Am I dead?
I think I’m dead.
I met Joakim Noah. My hero. The man who put on for the city of Chicago and Bulls fans everywhere every damn night he laced ’em up. The man who drove the Heatles crazy, told the entire city of Cleveland to get bent, and never once apologized for how much he cared about competing and winning. MY. F-ING. DUDE.
He’s also the guy who has done so much more than grab rebounds and make hustle plays. He’s the guy who has helped countless people in Chicago and all over the world with his foundations and charity work. Contributing his money and — more importantly — his time and compassion, to people who need it. Who need something good in their life.
The fact that I finally got to tell Joakim, to his face, how much I appreciate him for that, for everything…If you watched our Thursday night Postgame show in Paris, you saw just how much that meant to me. Bonus? He loved my shirts.
Pinnacle life moment. Made. I’m not sure what to do now.
Speaking of “what to do now”…
That was the sound of me – and the Bulls – crashing very forcefully back to earth. And through several additional layers of earth. Inner core. Liquid hot magma.
I was just in heaven. Have I fallen all the way to hell? What have I done to deserve this? [Matt tells himself not to answer that rhetorical question. Let’s move on quickly.]
But this is hell, alright. Instead of capitalizing on their soft schedule upon returning from Paris — a real chance to get back above .500 for the first time since early November and gain ground in the East playoff race — the Bulls choke away two games. And it’s all too familiar, because we’ve been watching them do it all season. Playing down to lesser competition. Panicking and not meeting the moment when the first sign of adversity or added intensity hits from their opponent.
Some Bulls fans threw in the towel much earlier on this season, and to them I’ll give due credit for seeing this team’s true colors. Others — myself included — held out hope a little longer that this team could turn it around. Every time I got close to giving up, they’d show us a complete game, flowing offense, locked-in defense and a win over one of the best teams in the league. Just do this every night, guys. Come ON!
But no. The Bulls, for whatever godforsaken reason, have tortured their fans all season by refusing to play that well — or close to it — every night. Billy Donovan can’t explain it. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic can’t explain it. We haven’t heard Arturas Karnisovas and/or Marc Eversley try to explain it … yet.
Which leads me to this sad truth: AK and Eversley have to face reality sometime between now and that February 9 trade deadline. This team is broken, and they have to admit that to themselves and start changing it. Midseason trades are hard, so I’m not advocating that they sell off every piece of the roster for pennies. But they must pivot in some way to steer this thing in a different direction.
The “we like our group when we’re healthy” plan doesn’t fly anymore. Guess what? Lonzo Ball ain’t walking through that door. He’s barely walking anywhere, and it won’t be onto an NBA court anytime soon. What you have now IS your group mostly healthy. Sure, Javonte Green is out right now and he’s a useful piece. But they weren’t bowling teams over when he was healthy and playing. To continue on the “continuity” plan at this point would be negligent and infuriating. This roster is too flawed to go any further than it did last season.
I held on as long as I could. But I’m officially done with this team, this roster, this coach, this season, until something changes. Like Dave and I were saying [or singing] in that Postgame show Thursday night: why should we or any Bulls fans continue giving our time and our hearts to this epic failure of a season? It certainly looked in the second halves against Indiana and Charlotte like the players have given up.
Why shouldn’t we?
BRB, gonna go look at this picture of me & Jo and cry myself to sleep.
See Red. Be Good.
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