The unthinkable thought: Bulls fail to 'three-peat'

MIKE ROYKO

June 18, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Chicago has always been a practical city, filled with realistic people. That's why it isn't as goofed up as New York or as fidgety as L.A.

But lately, the city has been unusually light-headed. Normally rational people keep asking each other: "Can they three-peat?"

They are talking about the Bulls, of course. It has become almost a regional obsession. Had the Chicago Fire been televised, I doubt if the ratings would match those of the Bulls' playoff games.

And when someone asks me the question, using that ridiculous "three-peat" word, I try to bring them down to earth.

I do it by quoting a prominent economist who once told Congress: "Anything can happen -- and it probably will."

When he said it, the economist was talking about the economy. But his statement could apply to just about anything. At least to anything that can happen, which covers just about everything.

So as we approach another vital Bulls game, I have to wonder: If anything can happen, will it?

Not to spread gloom, but has it occurred to anyone else that the Bulls might lose and keep on losing?

You say that is impossible? Why? Oh, yes, I know. I have heard countless experts say it over and over again: No NBA team that has lost its first two games at home has gone on to win the championship finals.

It has become almost a mantra, chanted by broadcasters, sportswriters, and the lost souls who phone radio talk shows.

But what are we talking about? This stuff about a team losing its first two games is not something that was handed down to Moses. It isn't something found carved in the wall of an ancient pyramid.

I would remind those who cling to this precedent that there is another precedent that is much older: No professional sports team in Chicago has ever won three championships in a row. We're lucky if they win one in a row, or half of one in a row.

And I can trot out another tradition that is just as old: Given an opportunity, a Chicago sports team will usually break your heart.

I won't dredge up the sordid past, other than to note that the greatest of White Sox teams, the 1919 crew, threw the World Series for gamblers and almost ruined baseball; the Bears were supposed to become a dynasty a few years ago, but the cheapo wimp owner got in a snit and traded his star quarterback; and the Cubs . . . oh, why even dwell on so dreary a past?

Yet, Chicagoans seem to have forgotten this legacy of heartbreak and hangover. After those first two victories in Phoenix, they were as giddy as a room full of kids at a Chuck E Cheese's birthday party.

At any hour, you could turn on a sports call-in show and hear something like this:

"And now Moe from Cicero. Hey, how you doing, Moe?"

"Hey, Joe, great show."

"Hey, glad you like the show, Moe. So, what's up?"

"What I'm callin' about is this. Hey, what about those Bulls, huh?"

"Hey, right, what about 'em?"

"Hey, they gonna do it, right, huh, right, Joe?"

"Hey, you got my guarantee, Moe."

"Hey, that's good enough for me, Joe."

"Hey, thanks for calling, Joe."

"Hey, I'm Moe, you're Joe."

But the giddiest observers have been those you would expect to be the most detached and calm -- the sports journalists.

Actually, giddy isn't the correct turn. Some have become unhinged, experiencing mood swings that indicate severe manic-depression.

During the regular season, they were gloomy, saying the path was too long and thorny; the Bulls couldn't possibly overcome fatigue, achy toes, ennui and the growing menace of the fearsome New York thugs. Most crystal-gazed and saw inevitable defeat.

However, when the Bulls survived they became euphoric. But in an odd way. Suddenly the Phoenix Suns were being described '' as little more than befuddled, spastic midgets. And the city of Phoenix as fit only for lizards.

What's wrong with Phoenix? I've been in worse towns. Besides, Chicago has never been mistaken for Paris or Vienna.

As for the Suns, I'm not a basketball expert, but they don't look incompetent to me. They seem to be able to run, jump, sneakily grab the other fellow's shirt, and fling themselves to the floor in hopes of gaining a referee's sympathy.

So why can't the Phoenix lads win? The answer is that they can, because anything can happen and it probably will. On the other hand, maybe it won't.

Actually, it might be a good thing if the Suns won. I say that as a Bulls fan who would mourn as deeply as any other Chicagoan. Especially if they lose on a night when the bars are open later.

But some of my friends are sports commentators, although I seldom list them as references or watch them eat. And defeat would provide them with a greater wealth of material than victory.

If the Bulls win, what is there for them to say? The Bulls are a great team? That would be obvious. Can they do it again next year?

Ah, but if the Bulls do a traditional Chicago El Foldo, the journalistic possibilities would be limitless. Who is to blame? One by one, the guilty parties could be exposed. The coach, the players, the stubby general manager whom they loathe anyway. Michael for being cheated at golf, Scottie for being too nice, B.J. for being too frisky, Cartwright for having sore feet, Purdue for having big feet, and the general manager for having the look of a toad and wearing rumpled clothing. (See, all sports columnists are built like Sylvester Stallone and wear only Brooks Brothers duds.)

It would be the biggest public trial since Leopold and Loeb or the Conspiracy 7 crowd.

Anyway, the Bulls probably will win. But if they lose, don't say you weren't warned.

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