One of the things sport taught me is the meaning of words like ephemeral and ethereal. That life is fragile. And short. That no matter how indomitable something may appear, it is often little more than smoke curling through air. It takes only a faint breeze to disturb and redirect its trajectory.
In the spring of 2011, the Chicago Bulls were a young team on the rise. They had lucked into that elusive thing called chemistry, with talented, heady players who bought into a charismatic coach’s vision of how the game should be played. All of this was cemented by the skills of a nascent superstar named Derrick Rose.
Yes, the view from northeast Illinois was mighty sweet. The Miami Heat might be the team of today, but it was very hard to believe the Bulls weren’t the team of tomorrow. Yet two and-a-half years later, the team of tomorrow looks like the woulda shoulda coulda team of yesterday.
Derrick Rose’s future as an NBA point guard is very much in doubt after successive anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus injuries. It’s hard to look at him and not see Anfernee Hardaway or Grant Hill.
Small forward Luol Deng has already expressed his intent to explore free agency, following public questioning of his toughness and commitment. Power forward Carlos Boozer, signed to an enormous contract following the Bulls failed attempts to land either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010, will likely remain, but is untradeable and on the downside of a productive career.
Gritty point guard Kirk Hinrich is feeling the effects of multiple seasons spent sacrificing his body in the name of defense, leaving center Joakim Noah and reserve forward Taj Gibson as the Bulls’ sole long-term assets.
The window of opportunity that magically opens for certain combinations of players and coaches has silently and immutably closed. Run ragged by an unceasing succession of injuries, the formerly resilient Bulls are now exhausted and overwhelmed. It is a good thing it’s Christmas.
My Christmas wish for the Bulls begins with David Robinson’s foot.
You see, David Robinson was an elite professional basketball player. He was fast, strong and agile. He was a seven-foot center who could move with the speed and quickness of a much smaller man. He single-handedly turned the San Antonio Spurs into contenders, and quickly became one of the NBA’s most dominant players.
His greatest weakness was that he possessed the physiology of a human being.
On December 23rd, 1996, while playing in just his sixth game after recovering from an off-season back injury, Robinson suffered a broken foot. This not only ended his season, but effectively ended the Spurs’ as well. Without their stellar center and small forward Sean Elliot, they nose-dived to an NBA-worst 20 and 62 record.
But with Robinson’s injury and the Spurs’ dismal 1996/97 season came a blessing: the number-one pick in the 1997 NBA draft. And with it, the Spurs chose Tim Duncan, beginning a run of sixteen straight winning seasons which includes four NBA championships.
So as this scarred and ravaged edition of the Chicago Bulls picks its way through the schedule, the prospect of a high draft pick in next year’s draft might be the silver lining in what has become a very dark cloud. I’m not advocating tanking here; just holding out a carrot amid the wreckage of what was once a contender.