It’s a bit dicey to ask NBA fans to pull up their TVs (or, perhaps, the wonderfully multi-hued and -angled work of TNT Overtime) to take in a team that only managed to eke out 65 points (at home!) in its last game. A team that at times was a struggle to watch in years past, even when it had its best players roaming the court. You should probably watch what could be the Chicago Bulls’ final game of their 2012-13 season, though. Because NBA novelties usually don’t come more inspiring than this.
There is no way a team like this year’s Bulls should be playing an important basketball game on May 15. Spanning back to the late 1980s, you could pick highlight after playoff highlight of Bulls teams doing masterful and lasting things as May enters its second fortnight, but this particular squad is lost in comparison.
Save for the part where you get to all the buzzwords that Chicagoans hold so dear. The team competes. It doesn’t make excuses. It gives whatever it takes. All the eye-rolling features of a high school guidance counselor’s poster-filled walls actually apply to both generations of these Bulls teams.
Chicago couldn’t make a close game of it on Monday because the squad’s 5-foot-8, one-time-mocked starting point guard could not buy a bucket, missing all 12 of his shot attempts. This is coming on the tail end of a postseason that has seen the Bulls sparkplug-turned-savior broadsided by Gerald Wallace, stepped on by the same man three games later, and given 11 stitches after tussling for a loose ball with LeBron James. Nate Robinson briefly played in a football secondary unit in college, but Wallace and James are actually NFL linebacker-sized. And yet, well into the late hours on Monday night, Robinson (speaking over stitches in his lip and with his injured left shoulder wrapped and iced down) answered every single question posed to him about his ohfer 12.
This was a player brought in to be the 12th man, by the way.
Chicago is out of 12th men. Luol Deng hasn’t been the same since undergoing a spinal tap — an actual spinal tap — two weeks ago. He could not travel with the team and will be out for Game 5. Kirk Hinrich worked through eight different injuries this season — not eight different reoccurring flare-ups of the same injury, but eight separate injuries to eight separate parts of his body — and will be out with a calf bruise that will likely be revealed to be an amputation of some sort over the summer.
The Bulls’ front office doubled down on going cheap and relying on Derrick Rose to act as a late-season savior that would save them both cash and the 2012-13 campaign, and he smartly replied with the kiss off that, “Nah, you don’t really come back in the first week of March and immediately start playing like an MVP, guys.” Meanwhile, the bucket of ice that houses Joakim Noah’s aching foot after games and practices has become a Chicago landmark.
And yet, this team is still playing on May 15. A time of year where giants like LeBron James and Kevin Durant roam the earth. A time of year not usually suited for, “What if we mix it up in an attempt to free Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovic for some open looks?”
Chicago’s just not supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to go this long without Rose suiting up. Richard Hamilton wasn’t supposed to fall off the face of the earth. Noah wasn’t supposed to be this team’s best player nearly a month after considering shutting himself down for the playoffs because of his plantar fasciitis. And Robinson wasn't supposed to be the post-game go-to interview for actual quoted substance, and not silliness. This team shouldn’t be able to score 16 points against Miami’s trapping defense, and yet it scored 65 on Monday. This Chicago team, in comparison to the Heat, is unlike any team you’ll ever see. Because you’ve already seen the Heat, last year. They’re damn good.
The Bulls may make fewer than a third of their shots on Wednesday. They might be blown off the court by the defending champs in the presence of thousands of late-arriving fans whipping around white towels while the NBA’s most annoying public address announcer prattles on. The entire affair may be an affront to your sensibilities, regardless of your rooting interest.
The Chicago Bulls are playing on May 15, though, in a month and day they had no business being active for. Tune in, to see something you’ll never see again.