I excitedly entered the United Center early, wholeheartedly receiving my “See Red” Bulls playoff rally towel. Hungry to witness competition and ferocity like the two basketball beauties in Boston offered, I cruised straight through my gate without even contemplating a trip to the concession stands. The arena started to pack as we neared tip-off, and the stands were covered in red. There was an aura of Johnny Red Kerr and Norm Van Lier in the stadium, and even a bit of Michael and Scottie.
With the highlights reeling on the jumbotron and Boston reserves on the court already shooting around, the rest of the Boston team slid through, receiving an array of boos. Shortly thereafter, the Bulls rolled onto the court, guided by Benny the Bull, and the crowd went wild. Ben Gordon, as usual, made it out a few minutes after the other Bulls, earning another uproarious applause from the fans. The clock winded down to tip-off and I felt the excitement in the air. Butterflies, goosebumps, jitters – the feeling of my nerves as I awaited a spectacular performance.
And why not? After all, David Stern announced right then the Rookie of the Year and our franchise player, Derrick Rose. The point guard was awarded the trophy and acknowledged the support and admiration from thousands of fans.
At this point, I looked at the clock to tip-off again and it read 00:00. The Bulls had headed back into their locker room for a last huddle. Then, something extremely strange happened. The national anthem began in a few minutes, and I didn’t even realize the Bulls were missing. I saw the starting line-ups, saw Kevin Garnett in his Armani, saw the Bulls stampede on the monitor, saw the fireworks dazzle within the stadium, and heard the Bulls introductions. And I adamantly claim that I saw the Bulls starting line-ups as well. I really did!
But when the game started, I couldn’t see the Bulls anywhere! All I saw was a bunch of scrubs dressed in Bulls uniforms playing a mixture of Dodgeball, Hot Potato and Freeze Tag.
We read about the hype in the papers. We saw it on the television sets. This could have gone down as the best Round 1 playoff series in the history of the NBA. And the entire time between Game 2 and Game 3, all I can look forward to was being at the United Center to feel the hype in person, and appreciate my rising Bulls. But I don’t even think they came out of the locker room on Thursday.
The Bulls were ghosts who endorsed a daunting silence from 20,000+ fans in Game 3. The only claps and cheers came from two Celtics fans behind me, drenched in green pride. I didn’t move from my seat all game as I continually waited for the Bulls to arrive. I saw bikers and Regurgi-cams, Stampede Drummers and cheerleaders, Luv-A-Bulls and Matadors, Tic-Tac-Toe and Dunkin’ Donuts computerized races. The time flew by, and still no Bulls! It was already the 4th quarter and the parachute shirt giveaways were dropping from the ceiling and Bulls staff members were shooting shirts at great trajectories throughout the stadium.
I looked at the score and couldn’t believe my eyes. The Bulls had packed it in without even stepping on the court. It was like a Game 3 forfeit. The final buzzer sounded and Rajon Rondo was carried into his locker room as a fan snatched Bill Walker’s headband. I even saw that, but I didn’t see my Bulls. I would argue it was the worst performance by the Bulls ever, but how can they perform if they don’t even take the court?
Perhaps the high point for me on Thursday night was the chance to get a free Bulls shirt. After 3 missed opportunities where shirts were within my reach, I didn’t lose hope. The final parachute that fell from the rafters was headed towards the section next to me. And with more than half the fans auditioning for “The Departed”, I had a clear 50-foot path to the vicinity of that parachute landing site. So I sprinted, and skipped over a box of nachos as the shirt fell right in the hands of 5 different fans, who in their competitiveness, saw the shirt drop to the floor now only 15 feet in front of me. At that point, I dove, with my Bulls jacket cushioning me for the fall, and snatched the shirt with pride, earning many congratulations as I headed back to my seat.
All I know is that if I missed 3 opportunities and still didn’t lose hope, then the Bulls have only missed 2 opportunities so far, and have much to play for still. Game 4 will be different, I assure you, because the Bulls will take the court indeed.