Monday, April 25, 2005

The United Center Remembers How To Party

Just like riding a bike. This whole playoff thing, that is.

It had been seven years since Bulls fans had a chance to witness a playoff game at the United Center. Seven long, depressing years. So it's little wonder that they were ready to erupt in a deafening roar of at-long-last released frustration and unbridled joy. That's what they had been waiting for. That's all they ever wanted. Build it and they will come and go insane.

And did Bulls fans ever go insane in yesterday's 103-94 win over the Wizards.

It was a beautiful thing to be part of as I sat in the clouds of the United Center, literally two rows from the top, to be exact. As happy as I was with the Bulls win, I was equally happy for Bulls fans. After all, these are the same loyal folks who continued to keep the Bulls among the league leaders in attendance no matter how low the Bulls plunged, which was all too often somewhere near the earth's center. (The Rusty LaRue era, anyone?)

It's hard to say Bulls fans "deserve" anything after receiving six titles in eight years, but, deserved or not, they sure know how to appreciate a good thing when they get it.

Heading to the game, I wanted nothing more than for the United Center to be raucous. I wanted to feel that spine-tingling sensation that comes when your ear drums ache under the pressure of an avalanche of noise and your hands hurt from high-fiving anyone and everyone surrounding you.

Upon arrival, everything looked familiar. The people posing in front of the Michael Jordan statue. The blues bands playing on the concourses. The giddy fans waiting to see the gladiators (the Wizards) tossed to the lions (the Bulls).

All that was left was the explosion.

Unfortunately, it didn't come easy. The Wizards came to play and, for three quarters, did all they could to provide shoosh after shoosh. The Bulls could never get on that one run that would bring the euphoria. Too many lead changes, too many questionable calls, and too many Larry Hughes midrange jumpers. Every time the emotions approached the level of hysteria something would pull them back.

But it was building. It was coming.

The Wizards can thank referee Dick Bavetta and his crew for ultimately sending Bulls fans over the edge. Late in the third quarter Antonio Davis dunked, hung on the rim momentarily, and was whistled for a technical foul. It was a terrible call because A) Davis didn't hang on the rim for any longer than you see guys hang on the rim in the NBA all the time, and B) you do not - repeat, do not - tell Bulls fans that after seven years of sorrow they can't celebrate a rim-rattling, momentum-changing dunk without the opponent heading to the other end of the court for a free throw and possession.

Uh, sorry, but screw that.

Not for the last time on the evening, the chorus of "Bull-shit! Bull-shit" rained down on the court and it was just. Not to mention funny. No sour grapes here. Only aggravation over a poorly officiated game. After all, this was the same crew of refs that had given the Wizards a 22-5 advantage in free throws at one point in the third quarter. Jeez, I know the Bulls are mostly kids, but can they get some respect? At home? Just a little? Hell, the first quarter wasn't even over before Tyson Chandler and Davis were both in foul trouble and replaced by - gulp - Lawrence Funderburke and Jared Reiner. Think that sent a chill down the backs of Bulls fans?

With the beer fully settling in, and the fans properly annoyed, it was now time for the Bulls' hallmark - it's defense - to truly get the rafters shaking. It didn't disappoint. Hughes, who had 24 of his 31 points in the first half, was finally stymied. Wizards turnovers started piling up as well as, more importantly, Bulls fast breaks. Nothing gets a basketball crowd riled up like a steal and a breakaway dunk and when Chris Duhon did just that almost everyone in attendance looked at each other and said, "Duhon can dunk?"

Yes, apparently he can. Meanwhile, Chandler swatted a shot into the first row, Andres Nocioni was drawing charges, and, of course, Ben Gordon was sinking nearly everything he tossed up. Of course, he was.

And the United Center was rocking. Finally. Seven years of frustration unleashed in twelve-minutes of maniacal roars.

Bulls fans were officially back. The long wait was over. Yesterday's fourth quarter was as loud as I've heard the United Center and it was good. Bulls fans were just waiting for it. They were asking for it. They wanted only the slightest reason to go ballistic and lose their heads.

They got it.

In the final minute, to show their appreciation for Nocioni's 25-point, 18-rebound effort, they began chanting "No-ci-o-ni!" It was a fitting tribute to a player who represents all that Bulls fans, and Chicago fans in general, love and appreciate: hustle, intensity, blue collar, blood, guts. The joyous chants of "No-ci-o-ni!" continued as fans exited the United Center into a chilly April night that seemed like so many other late-spring evenings many years ago when winning seemed to be a right.

But Bulls fans know winning isn't a right. They're smarter than that. They're not greedy and they certainly aren't warm-weather followers.

They never went away or gave up or became complacent.

This was all they ever asked for. Intensity and effort. And, yeah, some Bulls wins. Bulls playoff wins.

It feels good to be back.


I couldn't help but notice that several luxury boxes were completely empty, mostly on the upper two levels. This is ridiculous. How many times have we heard of teams basically holding cities hostage over a proclaimed "need" for a new stadium or arena with luxury boxes? Plenty.

Yet when the Bulls finally host a playoff game many of the so-called "fans" who purchase these boxes don't even show up. Where were they?

That's just sad.

There were plenty of standing-room-only ticket holders right behind me. I bet they would have appreciated the seats. I bet there were plenty of Bulls fans elsewhere who would have shown up.


Blogger Jackie Chiles said...

This is a very positive development. Congrats for hanging in there. Still don't understand why my man Ben doesn't get more burn.

Any more word on Curry?

10:38 PM  

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