Star Crossed By a Rose: The End of an Era for the Chicago Bulls?

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I am a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan. The vast majority of my childhood memories consist of the either Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chuck-E-Cheese, or the Jackson-Jordan-Pippen teams. Or all three combined. What can I say, I had good taste as a child. And I’ve been hooked on the NBA ever since, in large part, thanks to my father’s super effective brain washing methods.

Like many other Bulls fans, I was devastated Tuesday by the news of Derrick Rose suffering yet another knee injury requiring surgery and likely having to miss the remainder of a promising season for Chicago.

I should say, I was devastated and I remain devastated.

I was devastated over the impact of Rose’s injury on the team’s chances to win the East this year. I remain devastated because it feels as if the injury marks the end of the Thibodeau/Rose prime in Chicago. I can’t totally explain why it feel so fatalistic, so dire, so definite. It just does – ask any other Bulls fan. The era seems over. It’s not just this season that’s over, but the next. And probably the next.  Ask them. They’ll agree, I guarantee it.

My friends who are not Bulls supporters have tried to re-assure me: it’s not season-ending necessarily, he could come back in six weeks.  In time for the playoffs!

I tell them, ‘He may be ready physically, but he won’t be ready mentally’. I don’t mean that as a knock on Rose’s toughness. He just needs more time to get his head right & confidence up after injury. We’ve seen that each of the last three seasons now.

It pains me to say it, but I tell them, ‘He’s not coming back this season and he’s never coming back as the player he was. He never was back as the player he was.’ Now, I’m perpetual optimist. But that’s what I feel, deep in my bones. And I am definitely not alone in thinking this.

This most recent injury marks another chapter in the strangest love affair between an athlete and a fan base that I can recall in modern American sports. Explosive and hard-working on the court, soft spoken and well behaved off it, and “…Ffffffrom Chicago…” What a player he was, and how us Bulls fans fell for him, defended him, and backed him…the tear in Philadelphia and the sixteen month recovery, Reggie Rose, botched press conferences and ” I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to.” What poor luck & terrible communication strategy on the part of Rose & the team amidst the injuries, and how us Bulls fans lost that love, hardened our feelings, even turned on him…..

I remember exactly where I was & what I was doing when, on May 20, 2008, I heard my Bulls landed the first pick in that year’s NBA draft. Fullerton El station, Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

In the months leading up to draft night, I remember debating with my college roommates about whether or not we should draft Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose. Miller High Lifes in hand, dark & narrow “garden” apartment, Kanye’s Graduation blaring I’m sure, Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.

During the raucous aftermath of winning the lottery in which we had a 1.7% chance of getting the top pick, I am ashamed to say I wanted Chicago to take Beasley. Various undisclosed locations, Chicago.

That lasted about 36 hours, max. My fellow Bulls friends swiftly convinced me that it was a point guard’s league and D. Rose would be the prince of it. Plus, he’s from the South Side. He’d only left for a few months to play ball at Memphis and had promptly returned at the conclusion of the college season. A Chicago boy through and through. A city product to lead the Bulls back to glory. United Center, west side of Chicago.

I was overjoyed when we drafted him and the rest has been this incredible, star-crossed history. There have been stars of many different sizes, colors, & types, that’s for sure: From his rookie campaign culminating in the legendary Bulls-Celtics series to  his ascendancy to all-star point guard under the tutelage of Thibodeau…..From the failed “courtship” of LeBron during summer 2010 to the Bulls’ loss to Heat at the conclusion of our magic but fated “Fuck Miami” season featuring MVP D. Rose and a legendary team defense….From the Tear Seen Round the World to the next year without him and the media fiasco about his return and the next knee injury and the promising recovery this season with a new-look Bulls cast and now the third knee surgery in four years….

….(deep sigh)…..

It’s getting late here and I don’t have the energy to fittingly reminisce about the golden years of Rose & early Thibodeau Bulls at the moment. It’s difficult for me to think back that far because it was a long time ago, nearly five years.  Nor do I have the energy or patience to dig through stats to flesh out comparisons of him to Penny Hardaway and Brandon Roy or to analyze his advanced metrics the last several seasons in order to construct an argument about the way he was trending statistically or to examine the medical histories of the injury to ponder the likelihood of successful recovery. I do have the energy to share how grateful I am for getting to cheer for him and those teams over the years, though admittedly it’s hard to appreciate what was considering what might have been.

D. Rose had/has one of most unique offensive games I have ever seen. When he’s on, there’s not a better penetration guard in the league. But it feels like he’s entering a different phase of his career and the franchise is entering a different phase of it’s history. And us Bulls fans are ready for the change, strange as that might sound as we sit in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

For Bulls fans, the dominant emotion this week in the aftermath of the injury news has been frustration or anger more so than sadness or resignation. Seems like a weird or even inappropriate response considering a hometown, superstar athlete with an exciting style of play is involved, right?

But that’s where the fan base is at with the Derrick Rose era. We’re downright exhausted. We’ve had to live through the same season for three years in a row. It’s a season in which we’re good, but not great. A team full of coachable guys and hard workers with no real chance to win the title because our franchise player is on the sidelines. Or up in a sky box. Or rehabbing elsewhere. We’re once again back in the position of having to wait for Rose to rehab, to come back, to maybe be almost as good as he once was against all odds, and for a narrow-at-best title window to open.

If we are to continue with this as our plan A, it feels like we’re waiting around for a moment that’s not going to happen, and that is perhaps one of the least empowering feelings in spectator sports. Plan B is to rebuild a portion of the roster by offering up Rose and other veterans for picks or young talent, in hopes of landing the next transformative NBA player (since that is an absolute prerequisite for winning the Finals in this day and age). With Chicago fans, plan A will breed cynicism and plan B will breed hope. Derrick Rose once was a transformative NBA player who, with another year or two of playoffs experience and some luck, could have led the Bulls to a title or two. Unfortunately, he is no longer such a player. The sooner the Bulls acknowledge this and start making front office/coaching decisions accordingly, the sooner the next title window will open in the Windy City.

Go Pack Go!: #12 vs. the 12th Man

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The NFC Championship game is upon us! Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Packers fan and anyone who knows me well knows that I am an analytical cat. My rational tendencies can be my worst enemy at times, but laying out all of the possibilities of a situation, in sports or otherwise, brings me comfort and allows me to think more creatively about said situation.

Compared to last week when I was a nervous wreck for 6+ days, I have been feeling strangely fine this whole week leading up to the game today.

I think this is because the Packers have now reached my expectations as a team this year and if they win today, they will have exceeded them (a packers.com reader voiced these same thoughts perfectly in an Ask Vic column this week).

I thought at the beginning of this season that we would have to go through Seattle in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl. I also thought that it would ultimately come down to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense having to overcome a ferocious Seattle defense and CenturyLink Field’s 12th Man. I didn’t feel good about the Packers chances of advancing to the Super Bowl under those circumstances in September and, up until yesterday, I felt abject about beating the Seahawks on the road with a peg-legged Rodgers.

But things have changed in the last 48 hours. I stopped caring about the national pundits’ opinions and started listening to my heart (and countless Packers podcasts). After carefully weighing every angle of the match up, I think we have a puncher’s chance.

We could be a few hours away from a Super Bowl, so let’s have fun with it! Here are the themes on my mind going into this afternoon’s game, brought to you by the Talking Heads.

Some Good Points…

    • The Packers offensive line has improved drastically since we played the Seachickens, I mean Seahawks, in week one. Remember how it was Linsley’s first NFL game (in the loudest NFL stadium) and Sherrod played in place of Bulaga? Our O-line is now one of the strongest units in the league and I feel good about their ability to protect #12 in the pocket.
    • The Seahawks defense has faced a laundry list of low caliber quarterbacks the last several months. If you’re a Packers fan, you’ve seen the list by now. Their defense played well against Cam Newton last week, but he has practically no offensive weapons to aid him. Long story short, the Seattle defense is a force to be reckoned with but has not been tested regularly since October.
    • No Percy Harvin this time around. The mercurial WR had a handful of big plays and a combined 100 yards rushing and receiving in week one. He was traded in October and was not replaced with a weapon approaching his potency. Lynch is now the only stand out talent for Wilson to utilize.
    • Julius Peppers vs. Justin Britt. I like this match-up for Green Bay. Peppers could be in for some birthday sacks. Hey Britt: don’t take another step, don’t blame it on yourself! (Couldn’t resist the Phish reference;)
    • The Law of Averages suggests that a). the Packers are due for a game changing interception and b). one of the home teams/favorites this weekend will lose.

…Some Bad Points

  • The status of Rodgers and his golden thigh is concerning to say the least. He’s only had a week to recover from the Cowboys game. He looked fantastic in the second half last Sunday, but the Packers can’t afford a slow start or sub-par half against Seattle. The Seahawks are 4th in pass defense when the QB stays in the pocket versus 12th when the QB leaves the pocket. Rodgers will definitely be staying the pocket today. Uh oh.
  • The coaching match up favors Seattle greatly. My friends and family know that, historically, I have lacked confidence in Mike McCarthy. He’s made strides in the right direction in terms of offensive play calling, but I’ll take Pete Carroll over Mike McCarthy any day when it comes to in-game strategy. Did I mention, as a Notre Dame fan and person with ethical principles, I despise Slippery Pete? I just vomited in my mouth a little.
  • Green Bay’s recent defensive history versus athletic, out-of-the-pocket QB threats is bleak. Capers just can’t seem to figure out how the scheme against these offenses. While our defense has been much improved this year compared to years past, I will remain skeptical of this progress until we stop a Russell Wilson or Cam Newton-type in a big game.
  • Marshawn Lynch is a beast. The Packers’ run defense showed improvement since Clay Matthews was moved to the inside, but I’m still unconvinced we’ll be able to stop Marshawn for 4 quarters.

But it all works out, I’m just a little freaked out.

The Packers will win if:

  • Eddie Lacy out rushes Marshawn Lynch and
  • They score a defensive or special teams touchdown and
  • They do not allow a defensive or special teams touchdown and
  • They hold Russell Wilson to fewer than 45 yards rushing and
  • Aaron Rodgers puts together a signature performance

The Seachickens will win if:

  • Aaron Rodgers sits out more than one offensive series or
  • The Packers have more than one turnover or
  • Marshawn Lynch runs for more than 120 yards or
  • Seattle scores one or more defensive or special teams touchdown

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 23

Think of Glendale….Super Bowl City!

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