It took 65 games for the Chicago Bulls to land themselves this season in the number one spot in the Eastern conference standings.
Looking at it another way, it took 14 years for the franchise to be back on top again.
The last time the Bulls was team number one in the East was in 1997. Unless you were born in 1999, or you’ve been living under a rock all this time, you should know who were their star players back then–Jordan, Pippen, Rodman. Equally a common knowledge about the Bulls was who their mentor was, Phil Jackson. The three players have long since retired–two having been inducted to the Hall of Fame–and the coach is penning strategies for the LA Lakers. Let’s not make footnotes out of Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, Toni Kukoc, and Ron Harper–they, too, composed the other roster of the Bulls’ raging frontmen.
And then the hiatus.
Year in and year out the Bulls seesawed with their seasons as playoff contenders and pretenders. They’ve experimented their chances to strike gold under various coaches, but none prevailed as much as Jackson did, or at least one-sixth of his championship mettle as a Bulls coach. There wasn’t much to do really with a team whose roster was anything but definitive. Surviving the season to make it to the playoffs was just enough consolation by the end of summer for the players to take the off-season in high spirits. It didn’t matter if the exit was a first-round or a second round loss–just to spend a few more weeks post-season was reason for fun.
And then came Derrick Rose.
The best pick since Elt… err… Michael Jordan, Rose proved that he was more than the hype surrounding him. He dropped hammers, dimes, and everything point guard-ish. He did it with such flare and ferociousness, he moved from franchise player to product endorser. What’s even notable in his rise was that it didn’t get out of the team context. The coaches who mentored him, and the one currently doing so, Tom Thibodeau, has done a lot to keep his horns in their proper places–a rampaging bull that had unique calm and humanness in him.
Talk about the worth of a man: he himself discredited the Bulls rise to his own doing. Get him a pulpit and he will preach about their team effort. You cannot get the guy admit to his own brilliance. The proverbial “I’m just doing my job” is an expected response when asked what he’s contributed so far.
This, and so many other considerations and factors, have brought the Bulls on top. The regular season is just about to wrap up. They have clinched a playoff berth. They’re being touted to give all other Eastern contenders a run for their money.
Whatever the outcome might be by the end of the season, one thing is for sure. The Bulls have raged, and may well continue to do so.
In the words of Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, there’s a new sheriff.
Derrick Rose scored a career-high 42 points to lead the Chicago Bulls past the San Antonio Spurs, 109-99 in the first of two final games of the season just before All-Star break at LA(the Dallas-Phoenix game continues to ensue as of this writing).
The Bulls avenged a defeat handed them by San Antonio last November 17, a 103-94 loss that did not include a healthy Carlos Boozer on the roster. This time, Boozer gave a 15-point contribution to the cause, the only other double-digit scorer aside from Rose and Luol Deng. From the side of the Spurs, Tony Parker scored 26 and Manu Ginobili with 16. The Spurs, despite the high scoring output of most of their players, were sorely out-rebounded by Chicago, 41-29. The Bulls were also more accurate with their field goals and free throws compared to the Spurs, who will close out their annual Rodeo Road Trip with a 6-3 win-loss card.
The win further certified Rose’s run for an MVP award, just a year after he won Rookie of the Year honors. Rose is appearing in his first All-Star game as a starter for the East, alongside Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire. Meanwhile for the Spurs, Tim Duncan and Ginobili will wear the West jerseys as reserves.
The Spurs are now 46-10, while the Bulls have a 38-16 record. The Spurs are still the only team on the 40-win mark, and are leading all teams in the league by at least 6 games.