The young, promising Chicago Bulls are in second place in the Eastern Conference, and the Miami Hurricanes have high hopes after hiring a new football coach — it’s like it’s 1989 all over again. Fans of both teams have great reason to be excited.
An unusually aggressive offseason by the Bulls, brought in Demar Derozan, Alex Caruso, and Lonzo Ball, and resulted in the Bulls having their highest preseason expectations since the Tom Thibodeau era, but no one predicted what has happened so far in 2021-22. More than a quarter of the regular season has been completed, and the only team ahead of the Bulls in the Eastern Conference is the Brooklyn Nets. Ball is having the best shooting season of his career — 42.7 percent from three and 41.7 percent from the field — Derozan is playing his best basketball in five years, averaging 26.2 points per game on 49.8 percent from the field, and the Bulls have the 10th best offensive rating and fifth best defensive rating in the NBA.
In Coral Gables, a legend has returned home, two-time national champion offensive tackle Mario Cristobal. He arrived by private jet to take over the Miami football program, bringing success at Oregon, two Pac-12 titles, and outstanding recruiting skills with him. A program that has been criticized, like the Bulls, for not spending the money necessary to keep up with the best in their sport signed Cristobal to a 10-year contract that is worth $8 million annually. Also, there is mutual interest between Miami and recently fired Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady who is from Miami and put together the dominating 2019 LSU championship offense — per The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds.
It’s great for sports to have these legendary teams back in the spotlight, but their fans need to keep their hopes in perspective. Wanting their team to win a championship is perfectly reasonable, but the Bulls and Miami will never be what they were at their peak. Those teams were more than just arguably the best ever in their respective sports, they were teams from humble beginnings that revolutionized the way their sports operated. That’s once in a generation stuff and neither team will likely get back to that space, and that’s just fine.
Miami was considering getting rid of it’s football program before it hired the late Howard Schnellenberger in 1979 as coach. Four years later they defeated legendary Tom Osborne and Nebraska to win the national championship. Then after a brief hiccup in Jimmy Johnson’s first year as coach in 1984, they would go on to win 58 consecutive home football games, four more national championships and change college football forever.
If there was ever a sport that subscribed to the old “the name on the front of jersey is more important than the name on the back,” it was college football. Then Miami came with all of the bravado that South Florida had to offer and washed over traditional college football like an actual hurricane. Four different coaches won national championships there in an 18-year span. This program wasn’t about Bear Bryant, or Tom Osborne, or Joe Paterno, or Nick Saban leading a team to victory. This was about wave after wave after wave of highly talented young men, mostly Black and from South Florida, kicking major ass on their way to the NFL and flipping off traditional college football in the process.
They talked trash, did backflips after they scored, and sometimes an offensive tackle would snatch a heavyweight boxing champion by his dreadlocks at a club. Miami did not care about decorum or etiquette, they cared about putting their opponents in the ground and the football in the end zone. In the process they became to the public either everything that had gone wrong with America, or the coolest people to ever put on football cleats.
NBA basketball had failed twice in Chicago before the Bulls became a team in 1966. The Bulls were solid for most of their first 17 years of their existence. They were consistently in the playoffs from their expansion season through the early 1970s and even took the 1975 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference finals. They were defense oriented, gritty, and had Chicago’s original Mike Ditka as their coach, Dick Motta, but the enthusiasm for Chicago’s other sports team wasn’t there for the Bulls. By 1984, Chicago Stadium was half empty when they played.
Then Michael Jordan was drafted and it was like Commonwealth Edison had flipped on all the power at the stadium at once. Jordan was an immediate pop culture sensation, and he too didn’t have much time for traditional way sports were played, rocking sneakers that were not up to uniform code, and wearing an Air Jordan sweatsuit and gold chain at the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest.
This would grow to the billion dollar empire that is Michael Jordan today. At nearly 60, he is still one of the most famous people in the world. While the team won the championships, he thrust the Bulls into popular culture and fully into the arms of their city. The Last Dance documentary that Scottie Pippen can’t get off his mind nearly two years later, along with Tiger King, helped us get through the early months of the COVID pandemic more than 20 years after the Bulls’ last championship. The Bulls may not currently be the most popular team in the NBA, but it’s still commonplace to see a person wearing a Bulls hat or jersey anywhere in America. I’ve seen a section of Bulls hats at a LIDS store in Atlanta.
The Bulls and Hurricanes were more than dynastic champions; they were cultural movements. Ice Cube was “freakin brothers every way like MJ,” in “Today Was a Good Day,” and Uncle Luke was making millions off of his X-rated rap parodies while wearing Miami gear.
That’s why fans miss these teams so much, because they were different. The baggy shorts and the gold teeth showed that there was room for everybody in sports. There’s room for players to be individuals on and off the playing field, and for those who didn’t like the touchdown dances or believe that the NBA scoring leader could win an NBA championship, it felt great to tell those people to stuff it as these new-school athletes stacked up wins and titles.
As great as all that was, the key word is was. Those are memories like that takeout place from your old neighborhood that was turned into a Starbucks or a high school sweetheart that now has more kids than you could fathom having the energy to raise.
Those old memories of the Bulls and Hurricanes are why people still care about those teams, and why there is still electricity in the building when they play well. Feel free to hold onto the feel-good memories, but don’t start thinking that either team is going to be what they were in their glory days. Those teams did more than just win, which you can’t ask the current teams to do, because the old teams didn’t set out to put an indelible mark on sports history. It happened organically.
So don’t get any crazy ideas about the Bulls returning to glory, and please don’t ask if The U is back for the 19th time since 2003. Just break out your gear with the Sebastian the Ibis logo or that sweater cap the guy Ice Cube shot at the end of Boyz N’ the Hood was wearing. Be happy that both teams are putting in maximum effort not necessarily to be as great as they were in the past, but simply to be great teams again.