Photo Credit: Nicky Pallas via Flickr
Against all odds, yet again, by some means, the Chicago Bulls are here. 47-33; heading into the playoffs with home court advantage; and of course, Derrick Rose is sidelined. Aaaaagain.
Whether it’s the banners overhead as the final remnants of a bygone basketball era or the crippling expectations that haunt all sports fans, fans have never taken well to the notion of “average” — as if there was something deplorable about consistently being in the playoff picture.
But after last season’s “imagine how good they’d be with Derrick Rose” turned to “will he or won’t he” plot, I’m learning to find silver linings in a losing battle. The story is the same this season as it was last: Wonky 6’11 stoner channels inner sports cliché while his coach guides team to improbable playoff run. It was like the first season of Friday Night Lights, except everyone was so busy wondering if Jason Street would ever walk again that no one noticed the Panthers won a state championship on the backs of Saracen and Coach Taylor.
Rose tearing his ACL sucked. That’s about the only explanation there is. For a fanbase vaulted into mediocrity after hopes of contention, bad luck is a hard crutch to fall on. But my grievances were rooted more deeply in the entitlement of fandom than the randomness of fate. It’s always been this: X years of suffering should lead to Y amount of joy. As a pretty decent television show once put it, though, “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
This season, the limelight disappeared, along with speculation and expectations. There’s no definitive Tom Thibodeau profile frolicking around the interwebs. No high-profile adidas campaign. Just a team and it’s fans, writing their own story as the season progresses, learning to navigate the beauty of a team without the industry surrounding it.
At times, deep into a jet-fuelled third quarter with Joakim Noah on the brink of destroying the concept of what an All-Star center is supposed to be, I forgot Derrick Rose ever walked these halls. It’s a different kind of alternate universe: the guy in a suit on the edge of the bench isn’t a worn down MVP but maybe an assistant coach.
The Bulls don’t seem concerned with #TheReturnPart2 either. They’re busy rendering sports cliché true, so much so that it’s become cliché to call Chicago cliché. The Bulls are one of few franchises in the NBA that are okay with not letting perfect be the enemy of good. Yes, satisfaction is the enemy of progress. But sports rarely allow us to think of it the other way around: Progress is equally the enemy of satisfaction.
That’s not say that speculation and expectation are all bad. They exist because we want it that way, especially when it comes to our sports. They’re an important part of the experience, an admission of full immersion. The things that make fandom worth it are the crux of our love and despair; prediction begets such a high level of willful involvement and emotional attachment that it’s an explicit admission of insanity.
Besides, ignoring the present to analyze a vague future or obsess over the past is what humans do best!
Nobody will ever learn how to block out the amorphous concept of “what could have been”, but Chicago is learning to live with it, taking joy in any silver lining that comes their way. Just as anyone who’s had a TV series, a book or a movie spoiled knows, accepting the triumph of inevitability opens the gates to a wealth of freedom and enjoyment.
The playoffs are considered magical ground filled with a brand of optimism only a clean slate, 0-0, could produce. But 48 minutes in, every non-contender has one eye to the offseason. For owners and GMs, it makes sense. They have decisions to make and players to evaluate. The rest of us, and it’s a sad truth, are powerless over the fate of our favourite teams
Why not step back, smell the roses (pun totally intended) and try to enjoy the ride? There are games yet to be won and lost and ripples yet to be discovered beyond the surface of whatever wins and losses are coming our way.