The Bulls aren’t going to beat the Heat. Jimmy Butler, bless his hair, will guard LeBron for at least the outset of the series. Marco Belinelli, bless his imaginary trophy balls, will guard/watch Dwyane Wade. Kirk Hinrich’s majestic goggles will be hanging on a hook in his locker. It’s going to be nearly impossible for the Bulls to advance.
But don’t worry, it’s gonna be fun.
The underdog’s corner is the greatest position in sports fandom. Nothing breeds more anxiety and disgust than entitlement, and nothing is more thrilling than, say, winning Game 7 despite the starting small forward tweeting from the ER. Everything we’re told by sports media, and everything athletes say publicly lest they be hung by their heels, is that all that matters is a championship. But that’s so clearly not the case, and it’s so obvious once it’s stated plainly: The ultimate joy as a sports fan is being surprised by what your team can do, and riding with them through it all.
So no, the Bulls probably won’t win the series. But below is a five-step program to not only getting through it, but enjoying the hell out of it.
1. Do not say the name “Derrick Rose.”
Take a breath, and let it go. He’s not coming back this playoffs. His coach and his teammates seem to have accepted this, and while it may be difficult for fans to understand, it’s done. Rose is now a dapperly dressed cheerleader, and thinking of him in any other way is counterproductive. Every time Joakim Noah goes up for a putback and pops his jersey on the way back, stop defining that as incredible-because-he’s-hurt-and-Rose-has-been-cleared-to-play-but-won’t. Stop at incredible.
It’s time to treat Rose exactly as he is, an injured star whose absence only makes the team’s achievements more remarkable. He’s the catalyst for what has already been an amazing postseason.
2. Revel in the rivalry.
After the Bulls won Game 7, Taj Gibson said of Miami: “That’s our rivalry. Words can’t express how bad we want to beat them.” The two teams have battled in huge match-ups during the regular season the last few years, and the Heat eliminated the Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Barring Rose’s injury, the teams almost certainly would have met again in last year’s conference finals. And remember, the Bulls are the team that stopped the Heat’s winning streak this year at 27 games.
Oddsmakers had the Nets as 6.5-point favorites to win in Game Seven, but as of this writing, Vegas (or Antigua, or wherever the online bookies roam) has the Heat as 11.5-point favorites for Game One. That’s pretty much a Thunder vs. Wizards line. It’s a huge insult to the Bulls, but it also shows how little is expected of this team, even after the Nets series. Bulls players and fans have earned the chips on their shoulders. There is bad blood here, make no mistake about it. And even if the Bulls can’t pull off winning four games, if they can take the Heat deep, and push them hard as they go into the Eastern Conference Finals, it’ll be extremely satisfying.
3. Cheer on Thibs as he out-coaches Spoelstra.
No one need wonder whether Tom Thibodeau is a big-game coach anymore. The man has heard plenty this season about his omnipresent screaming that goes on even in garbage time, about his willful stretching of his players’ minutes, and about whether he can call a game from the floor or if he’s all prep. Even when the Bulls pulled off the triple overtime win in Game Four of the Nets series, all credit was given to Nate “Uncoachable” Robinson’s unconscious effort. But Game Seven of the Bulls-Nets series put all of that to rest, once and for all. Thibs coached the hell out of that game, and now P.J. Carlesimo is looking for another job.
Thibs is a mastermind who gets the most out of his players, even as they play for nearly an hour with serious injuries. Spoelstra is a decent coach, whose greatest gifts seem to be managing personalities, and incessantly complaining about how his team gets fouled harder than any other team. There are going to be plenty of moments when Thibs out-maneuvers Spo, and each one should be relished.
4. Focus your ire on Chris Bosh.
Maybe you have an abiding respect for LeBron as the best player of his generation. And maybe you have some spare love leftover for Dwyane Wade because he’s a hometown guy. I won’t get into the merits of either of those misguided emotions, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Chris Bosh is one of the greatest sources of schadenfreude in the NBA. When the big man struggled to rebound in the first half of the year, he claimed he’d begun counting his own rebounds, and when asked about the criticism, he proclaimed “Life isn’t fair.” He then went on to blame Miami’s system for his lack of boards.
And who could forget this, from the 2011 playoffs?
5. Know you are watching the most exciting team in the NBA.
No one, not even the sabermetricians of the world, can deny the impact of the Bulls’ heart (#TWTW). Remember that in regulation of Game Four, the team was down 14 points with less than four minutes to play. Remember that Thibodeau’s go-to quote about his team over the last week has been the bumper sticker–unworthy “we have more than enough to win with.” Remember that every win this team has eked out in the last few months has come through an almost psychotic level of determination.
As I’ve said over and over again, if these Bulls were any other team in any other sport, where the legacy wasn’t two threepeats and the Greatest Player Of All Time, they’d be heralded as America’s Team for their work ethic. The Bulls players have adopted the exaltation #HOLDAT as their official, unifying slogan, which is really fun to say (much more fun than ubuntu).
The grey clouds hovering above this team were unmissable heading into the end of the season. But if you watch the Bulls on the court, you’re going to watch the most entertaining basketball of the playoffs. Forget the clouds. From here on out, it’s just fun basketball.
Let go of the ACL demons, embrace the underdog and his might, and, #HOLDAT.