Single page view By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Ride or die? That is the question. And the Chicago Bulls are forcing me to answer it.

This was supposed to be the game. The indication of what might be come May. Might be a second-round matchup. Might be the next ECR: East Coast Rivalry. Flash vs. Capt. Kirk; Shaq vs. the "next" him, Eddy Curry; Udonis Haslem vs. Andres Nocioni. But Shaq had a stomach virus and EC missed his third straight game due to an irregular heartbeat.

But still ... this was supposed to be the gauge game, a statement game, the game when the Bulls get gauged as to whether they are pretenders or predestined, when they make the statement that they ain't the Bucks of last year. This was supposed to be the one that was going to win Scott Skiles the COY award; the one that was going to get Ben Gordon the ROY award, plus the Sixth Man prize; the one that was going to scare the Pacers, the Wizards and the Celtics. This was that game.

Ben Gordon
Ben's coronation was put on hold by the Heat.

This was the game that was supposed to prove the Bulls' nine-game un-losing streak was real as government cheese. They asked me to watch this game, use it against a hypothesis, use it to come to a conclusion. Gauge. Make statements.

So 48 minutes and 39 career-high Dwyane Wade points later, I came to this conclusion: The Bulls eventually are going to break my heart like the Illini did.

They never got closer than 14. They never gave any indication that they stand a chance against Miami, even if Luol Deng (out for the season with a tendon tear in his wrist) and Curry are there. All of a sudden, it felt like last year, or the year before that, or the year before that.

I shook my head to shake the cold sweat coming over me. No Rod Serling (or Tommy Davidson) in sight, so I knew I wasn't in the twilight or in the zone. The Heat shot 54 percent from the field – without Shaq! Nocioni tried to punk Wade to the degree that one of the TV guys called him the Argentinean Dennis Rodman. It got so bad that with 1:44 left, Bulls analyst Johnny "Red" Kerr said, "Let's get this one over with; it's kinda ugly."

Followed, in a post-game interview, by coach Scott Skiles' saying, "This was just not a good game for us."

And this was supposed to be the litmus, the exam to see if the Bulls are ready for elitism. The hottest team in the league against the best team in the East without the MVP. It wasn't supposed to be a contest; it was supposed to be a test, one that I was supposed to grade for this column.

Final score: Miami 104, Chi 86.

Final grade: Miami A, Chi D.

The bell curve is in effect. And this is the team I have to ride or die with, come April 22.

So I ride. I'm still leasing the 760i bandwagon. Still 310 Motoring it out. Only thing that's changed is, I know after this Miami game that OnStar won't be available for the rest of the season.

The ride began with a column I wrote back in November. Their record at the time was 2-11. It was their sixth straight year of starting off the season with at least six losses. They began this one 0-9. "Fed up" is an understatement. PO-ed is a more accurate description of the feeling I had. And I'm not a Bulls fan like that. I just live in a city that forced me to love them.

The column dogged them. Not as a team – as an organization. It painted the owner and former GM as devils, and not the kind from Duke; used Tyson Chandler as a pawn, and not the kind in chess; called the organization 7:30, and that doesn't mean the time. Wrote: " ... the last three letters at the end of the team's name were missing."

Bulls. Hit. Get it?

The night of the day I turned the story, they won the first in a five-game winning streak. When the story hit the streets, they were in the middle of their second five-game winning streak. I called Tim Hallam, director of PR for the Bulls, and told him they "owe me for reverse-jinxing the team." He never called back. Over the next months, I'd hear through the vine that it'd be smart for me not to show up at the United Center.

I heard most of the players were cool, but the front office "wasn't feeling me right about now." So I stayed away. Watched the Return on television, listened to it on radio.


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