I grew up in Chicago during a very special time in sports. As a basketball player, and lover of the game, our city had the greatest player in the world, on the greatest team, in front of the greatest fans. Of course, I wouldn’t understand the importance of just how special these moments were until much later in life. But nonetheless, this time played a key role in my understanding, and appreciation of the game. Not only that, but it was the first time I was able to truly identify my “heroes” in the sports world. I remember being about ten years old on the floor of the Chicago Stadium during shoot around. Being on the actual floor the players were on! It was surreal. Getting my picture taken with John Paxson. Meeting Scottie Pippen as he sat on a chair untying his shoes. Of course, my greatest memory in my entire lifetime of sports would come a few years later when I had the chance to play ball against Michael Jordan himself, and no, not at some “planned” sports camp. True one-on-one at a street court.
But the point of this post is during the early and late 90’s I followed the Bulls heart and soul, as I do with all my Chicago teams. (Yes, even ‘sometimes’, and that’s a loose sometimes, with the White Sox.) I don’t think I missed more than 3 or 4 games each season. I was at the first home game where Michael Jordan came out of retirement. I witnessed them achieve the greatest single-season record in the history of the game. I watched as the world only could look at us in awe. I absolutely fell in love with being a basketball fan in the city of Chicago. But like all things, they come to an end eventually. And while the times were bittersweet, I knew I had to give them up. I had to move on with my life, and so did the Bulls. The dynasty was over. The heart and soul was still there, but it wasn’t the same. But deep inside, there was that sensation that I knew we would be back at this place again one day. The only question was, when?
The last two seasons have been exciting. And while I am unable to watch almost every game like I used to since I am no longer in Chicago, my undying love and support for this team has not shortened the least bit. Ask anyone who has been around me during NBA seasons over the last 12 years or so. I have never given up hope. I know we haven’t had the foundation to be what we were before, and I give respect where respect is due around the rest of the league. But for the first time since that 1998 season, I truly believe we are witnessing the next “Heirs to the Air”.
I know this team can take it all the way and win the title this year. And who knows beyond that. Will I be disappointed if we don’t? Yes, but that does not mean I will give up. This season has brought back so many memories that now as an adult, I appreciate so much more. I am reliving all the times I had when I was a teen. I am sharing stories with how we used to sit on the edge of the couch gritting our teeth as MJ pulled up with less than a second left on the clock. Or how a Rodman billboard on the Kennedy would back up traffic for hours. How McDonald’s named a sandwich the McJordan. How we used to make fun of Jack Haley, who had the biggest heart of anyone on that team. Or how we used to be so confident, we would begin planning our summer days around the Grant Park celebrations.
It feels SO good to be back again. And while the game has changed, we have outgrown the players and no longer are kids watching the guys, but the guys watching the kids, I never have forgotten what built this inside. And I consider myself very lucky for growing up where I did, when I did. At the end of the day when the average fan goes back home and jumps back into his normal routine, I still like to sit back and smile and soak it all in. Because I appreciate being a part of something so special that only a true Chicago sports fan knows what I am talking about!