With the Heat and Knicks having made their cases, only three teams remain – the Bulls, Bucks and Sixers.

To present the Bulls case, I called up an old friend of mine who I used to play Tuesday night basketball with. I was halfway through explaining the whole premise when he interrupted me…

“Rob, I’ve been reading your blog. I know about Jim’s Decision. I’ll do it”.

“Really? Thanks man. I owe you one” I said.

“No sweat. But it’s Jim that owes me one. I’m about to set his head straight”.

Jim, take a seat. Stevo the Bulls fan is ready for you.

————-

Jim, you are very luck to be a neutral NBA fan right now. It’s one of the most exciting times in NBA history. There are so many teams with promising futures ahead, and so many past great teams on the decline. It really feels like the tide is about to turn.

I’m trying to put myself in your shoes – the shoes of a man who loves his basketball, who loves watching the NBA, and who longs to rekindle the passion he had for the sport as a youngster. It’s easy for me to do this, because I was pretty much in the same position as you about five years ago.

In fact, we have a lot in common Jim.

I too was a massive Bulls fan growing up as a kid. I wore my Jordan jersey to my little league games on Saturdays. I collected BJ Armstrong basketball cards (because they were easier to trade for, and because I was short so I felt I could relate to BJ a bit more). I wore a Bulls cap that was way too big for me that I still own to this day. I dominated NBA Jam with Pippen and Kukoc. I was as passionate as you can be about a team that plays on the other side of the world, for which you don’t have any real connection to. Although I’d argue once I first saw ‘Come Fly With Me’ I felt as real a connection as ever.

Like you, I stopped following the NBA in the late nineties. For Bulls fans it felt like our world was crumbling. Jordan retired and Pippen left. The following season was a lockout. Our team from 1998-2000 was horrible. The NBA disappeared from free to air TV in Australia. In two years I’d gone from being obsessive about the NBA, to barely caring.

And I didn’t feel good about it, still don’t, to this day. How could I totally give up on a team that I truly supported? I’d like to think that today, as an adult, I wouldn’t do such a thing, no matter what sport. I just put it down to being a kid, and to the Internet not properly existing yet.

It was around 2004 when my interest in basketball, and the NBA, perked again. The new crop of young talent in the league – Amare, Yao, Dwight, Lebron, Wade, Carmelo – these guys recaptured my imagination and I was glued watching the highlight reels, just as I had been ten years earlier.

But what I noticed when I was watching these guys, was that I felt my connection with the Bulls had been lost. Looking around the league, I didn’t recognize anything. It was all very unfamiliar to me, and I felt I had to “learn” the league all over again. It was actually pretty daunting, because for an Aussie who hadn’t followed the sport for five years, there was a lot to catch up on. I found I could barely have a conversation about the NBA – Who were the best players? What were the biggest rivals? Who was the most loved? The most hated? Who was the best dunker? The best leader? The best defender?

And who the hell were these Bulls players? That was the hardest part. There was no Jordan, Pippen, or BJ Armstrong. There was Hinrich and Gordon and a fat dude called Eddy Curry. Why the hell should I follow these guys? There was no connection.

But there was one thing in my favor – the Bulls were getting good again. We finished the 04-05 season with more wins than losses for the first time since MJ donned the red and black. It was great to be able to cheer on the Bulls knowing they were winning again, knowing that we had a bright future. We made the playoffs for three straight seasons, and while we never set the NBA on fire, it was enough to rekindle my passion for the Bulls. Proudly, I could say I was a Chicago Bulls fan once again.

Now let me go back to what I said at the very start. Jim, you are lucky to be a neutral NBA fan at this point. You are even luckier you have a soft spot for the Bulls. Why? Because for any neutral fan, right now, the Chicago Bulls may just be the perfect team to choose.

I’ll explain the logic:

- The team is coming off an “average” season. There’s no reason why anyone would be jumping on the Bulls bandwagon based on how last season ended.

- The team got better over the offseason. The big signing was Carlos Boozer, and unlike other signings in the 2010 Free Agent market, this is actually one that desperately fills a need for our team. Boozer is perfect for the Bulls. A tough, skilled big man who can score, defend and rebound, fitting into a team which lacked inside scoring, and placed too much reliance on Joakim Noah for interior rebounding and defense. Perfect.

- Boozer isn’t a “marketable” character, certainly not of the likes of Lebron, Wade, Bosh or Amare. His signing won’t attract a hoard of Boozer fans. The signing was about adding a critical piece to the roster – not about trying to sell more tickets or jerseys.

- The Bulls have a great history, thanks to Jordan, and everyone wants to see them reach the NBA’s elite once again. No one really hates the Bulls right now. Going back a year ago, they were arguably everyone’s second team, thanks to pushing the Celtics to a historically memorable 7-game series in the first round.

- Derrick Rose. He is only 21 years old and he is already an incredible player. I’m not sure how much you’ve seen of Rose, Jim, but let me tell you, he is an excitement machine. He makes this team interesting to watch for any mutual fan. He is our highlight-reel guy. But for all of his flashiness, he’s most impressed me with his mental toughness and competitiveness. He wants to win. He wants to lead. With so much of his game still to improve, it’s not a long shot to say that we are harboring one of the future Top-5 players in the league.

- Taj Gibson made the All-Rookie First Team last year. Get used to hearing his name Jim, he will be a big part of our future. You say you used to like Dennis Rodman? Well, I see a bit of Rodman in Gibson. Very active on the boards, especially the offensive boards, and works hard on every possession. He is the reason I’m not so worried about Boozer’s injury – I’m confident he can step in and fill that void.

- Despite Rose and the imposing Boozer-Noah frontline, we are still not yet considered amongst the league’s elite. Nor should we be – this team hasn’t proved anything yet. But for a neutral fan looking to choose a team, that’s got to be the ideal situation, right? A team with promise to be “great”, without being a lock for title contenders (i.e. Miami). You don’t pick the Bulls expecting a championship straight up – as you would if you chose the Heat. You pick them because of the exciting upside of this team.

For me Jim, that is the biggest reason why you should stick with the Bulls – apart from the fact you were once loyal to them (which to me is a big enough reason in itself). The upside. The unexplored territory that lies ahead.

MK, writing about the Heat, said “What will convince you, is the fact this team is going to be one of the greatest in sports history”. That statement right there says everything you need to know about Miami fans right now. Not only are they prematurely calling their team one of the greatest in sports history, but they’re claiming it as “fact”.

Sure, maybe the Heat will win a championship or two in the next few years. What fun is there picking a team when that is the minimum expectation? When the Heat raise that championship banner, there will be more of a sense of relief than anything else – “Thank God we pulled this off… we would have looked like idiots if we didn’t win one of these without Lebron, Wade and Bosh”. That will be the overriding sentiment.

(For the record, I’m not even going to mention the Knicks, Bucks or Sixers – if you’re interested in winning you’ll only seriously be considering Miami or Chicago. If you choose one of the other teams, its for reasons I cannot convince you otherwise of).

With Chicago? You’re picking a team where a championship is certainly the goal, but not the expectation – at least not from the wider basketball community. It is the ultimate step, but not the next step. Phil Jackson once preached, and still does, that it’s “the journey that’s important”. When starting the season as reigning champions – a position Phil has been in many, many times – he doesn’t set his team the immediate goal of focusing on the back-to-back. “The journey” is what he preaches.

Choose the Bulls Jim. Not because of some prefabricated attempt at a dynasty, but because of the journey. You’ve travelled this path before, and you lost your way for a little while.

It’s time to reconnect.

Stevo – on behalf of your Chicago Bulls


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