I won’t lie to you, dear reader. Things are pretty bleak around here in Chicago, sports-wise. And actually beyond sports-wise, but I’m not qualified to discuss those things, really. Our center, the Bears, are an elaborate prank played on all of us by a trickster god, or at least they’d better be. Finishing out another regime in the most limp fashion possible, with two national TV games the next two weeks for the whole country to laugh at/be bewildered by us. It’s lame duck again, for the third time in a decade, where everyone is just looking at their watch and waiting for an announcement of firing and hirings that we can talk ourselves into meaning it will be different this time, before they actually have to make a free agent signing or draft pick or call a play. We are stuck in the walkway between football’s hell and purgatory.
The Cubs are disgusting, and despite the excitement of actual movement in the signing of Marcus Stroman, one can’t shake the feeling that it’s just a distraction by ownership to try and hide their vampire squid ways and might be all they do this winter, even after the lockout. Their one chip to hide behind when they have to deflect claims of not even trying.
The White Sox are good, except it never seems like Sox fans enjoy that fact, worrying about the signings they didn’t make or if their manager is awake or how they don’t measure up to other AL teams when really the playoffs are random. The Hawks? Well, even if they’re somehow clear of their covering up of the sexual assault of Kyle Beach because everyone’s been fired, they still score 0.3 goals per game right now. They’re so inert they’re folding into themselves at a rate they’re barely perceptible.
So you’ll have to excuse us if we treat the Chicago Bulls like the new video game system you got for Christmas even if you nearly failed out of science class and your parents told you you wouldn’t get shit if your grades didn’t warrant it. The Bulls make us promise to do better, and are a reminder that good things can happen just because.
They have the most wins in the Eastern Conference. They’re only behind the Nets on percentage points, and they’ve also beaten the Nets twice. Last night, even though the Denver Nuggets are an art installation representing all the stages of sadness right now, the Bulls blew their damn ass out of the building without DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso and a couple others in the rotation out due to COVID protocols. They’ve missed Nikola Vučević for seven games. Patrick Williams only played five before he turned his wrist into packing peanuts. These Bulls don’t care. Just tell Billy Donovan what he’s got to work with that night and they’ll go out and beat the piss out of whoever’s out there.
We’ve seen good Bulls teams before, but those were something of a slog. They were Tom Thibodeau teams, where every offensive possession looked like when your quarter gets jammed in the washing machine and you don’t know whether to push or pull the fucking thing to get it going. Even at the peak of those teams, it was Derrick Rose driving and then the rest trying to rugby scrum whatever he didn’t make into the basket.
Then his knee went blooey, and then so did the other one (which didn’t really matter as much as Bulls fans like to think, because LeBron would have just eaten his lunch again in the playoffs like he did in 2011).
But these Bulls? Here’s some shit:
At the heart of this is rookie Ayo Dosunmu. We love our locals around here, and Ayo is not only from here, but walked the very beaten path down to Champaign for college. I didn’t watch him at Illinois, because I have better things to do than watch college basketball, like snorting my own toenails. My friends who are Illinois grads talked about him all the time, but really, how good could he be if the Illini spit it against Loyola last year, and badly? They were just seeing the world through orange-colored glasses.
Well, if Ayo isn’t good, no one’s told him. And if they did he certainly isn’t listening. A second-round pick is generally supposed to be dodging the tumbleweeds in the D-league. Ayo forced his way into the rotation, and last night with the Bulls shorthanded he played 42 minutes as starter. It’s all face-first and I don’t know if Ayo has any particular plan or idea what he’s doing. I also know it doesn’t matter.
Whatever position this team seems to find itself in night to night, Zach LaVine and DeRozan pull their ass out of a sling in the 4th quarter. They just go nuclear. Nope, not tonight fam. DeRozan is going to hit all kinds of midrange jumpers and LaVine is going to get to the rim or rain fire from beyond the arc. LaVine is riding that wave that some guys seem to get from playing in the Olympics. Put them around the aristocracy like Durant or Lillard for a few weeks, and they might just think they belong there. Seems like that happened to LaVine this year. Two players in the top six in points-per-game. This is video game stuff.
I’m not even the biggest basketball fan. My former life as a hockey writer kept me from seeing too much for years. As a kid my punk rock sensibilities gave me an urge to separate from Bulls fans because I thought they were morons (and they still kind of are!). They too often apply a Bears fan mentality to basketball and end up worshiping players who make theater out of working hard instead of being highly skilled. Joakim Noah remains the only DPOY to then get his ass waxed immediately in the playoffs by Nene over five games, and he’s a god here. People still pine for that fraud Jimmy Butler, sucked in by the show he puts far too much time into producing.
But you can’t help it with this team. This isn’t about muckers and grinders. They can play defense when Caruso and Lonzo Ball are manning the perimeter, but it’s more than that. It’s Vučević’s poor-man’s Jokić act to go with LaVine and DeRozan. It’s Ball’s remade jumper launching daggers into opponents. Or Ayo’s barely controlled fury.
How long can it continue? I don’t know. They need another big off the bench. When teams actually care in the spring they probably will dare the Bulls to make enough threes to open up driving lanes for LaVine and DeRozan, and I don’t know if they can. Ayo will probably hit a wall at some point. They could get utterly crushed on the boards.
But those are problems for another day. This is the ride now. And as our debilitating winter sets in, withering away one’s light within, I’ll keep myself warm by this fire as long as I can.