Coach's Corner

I'm a Bulls fan. I'm unashamed. Chicagoans love the Bulls. They've saved a city long known - and rightly so - as the City of Losers. The Bears won a Super Bowl in '84. Then, you have to go back a generation to find another championship, the Bears in '63. Before that, you are, no exaggeration, going back to a time when the telephone and automobile and the airplane were newfangled thingies. For years, I've bridled and chafed silently - turning the other cheek - at the suggestions from many - idiots and morons - who contend the Bulls don't belong on a short list of the best teams ever. Note, I'm not claiming the best. Just, with no qualifications, one of the best. The qualifier is always this: "Yeah, sure, but take Jordan off the team and they're a) a high school team, b) the Clippers, c) maybe able to play in the Italian League." The fact, not opinion, is that the Bulls, without Jordan, came within one terrible call, against the Knicks in '94, of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. One crummy call! After a full year without Jordan. Without Jordan, the Bulls are still at least a decent team.

I suppose it's bad form to call my readers names. Dolt. Imbecile. Not a proven way to increase readership. But, for those of you who ask that insipid question, well, I take nothing back. I'm left to ponder how many soggy matchsticks you have in your book. If the Bulls didn't have Jordan.... It's a tiresome statement, unworthy of anyone calling themselves a sports fan. It's like noticing that cars have tires and feeling like you've just made a profound discovery. All great basketball teams, every one, revolve around a great player. Let's take a walk back, to a time everyone seems to recall with so much affection. Let's look, objectively, at some of these great teams.

Let's start with the mythical Boston Celtics of McHale, Bird, and Parish. The Celtics begin with Larry Bird. In the '78 season, the Celtics were 32-50. In Bird's rookie year, they were 61-21. Take Bird away... well, you figure it out. Now, let's look at the great Celtic teams - and they were great - of the mid-Eighties. I'll grant the excellence of McHale and Parish, if you'll grant the axiom "great players make everyone else better." McHale and Parish, minus Bird, are very good players. Would they be household names minus Larry? Please. And Dennis Johnson, has, somehow, improved as time has passed. DJ was a good player. Not great. Good. His scoring average - 14 ppg and five assists per game - pale next to, for example, Kevin Johnson. The fifth starter was the much traveled Danny Ainge. Ainge played on about every team in the league. Good, but one-dimensional, a small step up from Steve Kerr. Do you really think Jordan, Pippen, Rodman or Horace Grant, Harper, and Longley aren't in that league? Come on!

Everyone seems to think those old teams had such great depth. Bullshit. Scott Wedman was a good sixth man. As good as Kukoc? Not close. Bill Walton, at the end of his career, was a better backup than Bill Wennington, but Wennington is an effective player. The rest of the Celtic bench, populated with Sichtings, Kites, and assorted other NBA flotsam, was no better than the Bulls, or Utah or Indiana, for that matter, of today. If you can't look at this and admit they're at least comparable teams, you need to become a figure skating aficionado, so that you can think whatever you want and no one can prove you wrong.

The fine Laker teams of the early to mid-Eighties revolved totally around first Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then Magic Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan are one and one "a" as the best players ever. Abdul-Jabbar (though past his prime) and a young Magic are pretty tough to beat. Better than Jordan/Pippen? Some nights, maybe. Some nights not. I call it a wash. Jamal Wilkes was a nice scorer. James Worthy a good scorer. Bob McAdoo a good scorer. Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis added a little muscle. This was the vaunted age of ShowTime. Pat Riley wouldn't meet defense for a few more years. L.A. won five championships in the Eighties. This was a great team, but can you look at this with some semblance of objectivity and tell me Chicago can't play with them? Don't make me insult you anymore.

The Celtic dynasty of the Fifties, meanwhile, was built around Bill Russell. Period. Take away Russell and you have a bunch of sorry-ass white guys playing a game few would pay to see. My point, sports fans, is this: You can't ever take away a Jordan, or a Bird, or a Russell, and still have a great team. This is so self-evident, a mildly retarded chimpanzee could grasp it. Yet, it's a concept seemingly elusive to many. So, Bob on a mobile phone (you wise old owl you), stop calling talk shows and saying, "Yeah, but if you take away Jordan...." No shit, Jackson, and if I had a smoke stack, I'd be a choo-choo train.

Are the Bulls better than those other teams? I don't know. Do you? But could they play with them? Well, if you've come this far and still don't Bull-ieve, you need to follow a less complex sport, where someone rolls a ball and knocks down sticks.

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