Frankie O: Worlds apart

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Frankie O: Worlds apart

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

At least in my sports life, worlds apart is how I would like it to be, unfortunately, its not going to happen. The problem with a sports affliction is that it wont go away, even if you move to a new city with plenty of issues in its own right. You dance with who brung ya. What happens eventually is that those worlds will collide, with the collateral damage ending up everywhere around you. As anyone who has read me before knows, moving to Chicago was never a part of the master plan. (Neither were my weight or age, but well have time for that later!) Life happens and then nothing else is the same. For me, Im never going to quit my teams, who would? As you would expect, my rooting interests has caused situations I could never have foreseen. Again, what else is new?

The Sixers-Bulls rivalry has been pretty much non-existent for my entire lifetime. My guess is that it will stay that way even whenever-next September-they start playing games again. Thats cool with me since out of the Chicago teams, the Bulls are the team I can openly root for, without feeling too much heat from my Philly brethren. It was awesome being here for the second Three-Peat. And Ill take D-Rose over Allen Emphasis on the I-version any day of the week.

The Phils and White Sox have played one inter-league series and I honestly cant remember who won. The part I do remember was that the game I went to was rained out, so I had to spend the rest of my evening at Jimbos Lounge on 32nd and Princeton. Oops! What happens at Jimbos stays at Jimbos! In the September make-up game I saw Joe Borchard hit the longest hit ball Ive ever seen live- it short-hopped the wall beyond the right field concourse- and that includes the Albert Pujols Show during the 2003 Home Run Derby at the Cell. As far as Cubs-Phillies, theyve gone back and forth over the years, with the Phills having a decided advantage lately, which definitely makes my work life a lot easier. But I dodged a huge bullet when the Cubs gagged against the Dodgers in 2008 preventing a NLCS clash for the ages. Everyone at the bar wished me well as the Phillies went on to the title, but I knew it had to hurt. Thats a feeling Im very familiar with.

Of course, for me, it never has been worse than the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup final to decide the champion of the 2009-10 season. The ups-and-downs were dizzying. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Im no Dickens, but it was Tale of Two Cities that even he could not have imagined. Thats as conflicted, well thats wrong, the conflict wasnt inside me, thats as awkward and tortuous a time as Ive ever had. There was the outcome, obviously, but also the fact that it happened over a span of two weeks. A lot of my friends here actually asked me who I was rooting for. Honestly? At least when Kaner asked me, he did it with a knowing smirk! It was as if I was supposed to turn off my lifetime of suffering with the Orange and Black. Most of the folks here though, didnt have a problem with me being a Flyers fan, especially after the Hawks won. Theres nothing like having a reminder of your teams success serving you a cold one.

And of course that brings us to the next big event on the Frankie O Armageddon Tour: Its Bears vs. Eagles on Monday Night Football. Actually, since Ive lived here the teams have played 10 times, with my Birds winning six, including a glorious stretch of five in a row. Recently though, the Bears have won 3 out of the last 4. Most importantly, in the only playoff encounter, Chicago native Donavan McNabb and the rest of the Eagles closed out the original Soldier Field with a 33-19 victory. Now that was a fun week. The similarity of the two major cities that I have called home is that they are sports-mad. The madness is most acute concerning their pro football teams. The weekly hype preceding a game only makes those fan bases more rabid. For Chicago its about being an original franchise and also being the home of the most dominant single team ever. (I wonder what year that was? LOL!) For Philly fans its about a bitter lifetime of defeat and disappointment. Oh, sure weve won it all: 50 years ago! See what I mean?

This Monday, for the third time ever on Monday Night Football, they will battle once again. Coincidentally, I was at the last Monday night game they played on September 12, 1994. I was already living with my future boss, who we all know is from the Southside, and had visited Chicago for the first time with her during the previous July, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to the game. This was during the infamous Rich Kottite era of Eagles football. The Eagles got out to a 30-0 lead. Game over, right? Not so fast. Eric Kramer threw 3 fourth quarter touchdowns, and had the Bears knocking on the door for another at the end of the game, but then the defense woke up and sealed the deal for a 30-22 victory. That Eagles team had a season much like that game. They started out 7-2, but then tried to hold on but could not, and lost their final seven and Kottites job. I couldnt get to Chicago fast enough! And I did, that next January.

So its only fitting that in their next Monday Night tilt that I will be there. I know there is the talk about Monday night games not being the same and I sort of agree. But what isnt the same is the broadcast. Back in the day it was about Frank Gifford(Before he was Mr. Kathy Lee), Dandy Don and Howard Cosell. In fact it was in Philly on a Monday night that Howard famously lost the alcohol laced contents in his stomach on the Dandaroos cowboy boots and was promptly removed from the broadcast. (What can I say? Watching Eagles games affects us all in different ways!) For a young NFL fan, the game, and its announcers were larger than life. Even though thats not the case now, I still love a great Monday matchup, and for me this is one. In a season full of must-wins, this is another, for both teams. Everyone wants to give me grief about the Dream Team moniker that came out of Vince Youngs mouth. A back-up QB that was run out of town from his last job! No real fan would ever say that, we know all too well how that kind of talk turns out. But like Mike Vicks past, we will always carry that with us until they finally do something. So far what they are best at is giving away the football and fourth quarter leads. But then something funny happened last Sunday night. The Eagles stopped turning the ball over, got out to an early lead, allowing them to play on both sides of the ball as they were designed for, and they destroyed what everyone thinks is a talented (I say perennially under-achieving) Dallas Cowboys team. Who are the Eagles? I have no idea. They have the ability to be whatever they want, Im just along for the ride.

As for the Bears, Ive felt that they have tried to fight who they are for a long time. This team has a defense that should allow the team to be in every, or most, games. Its a defense built on patience and forcing turnovers. When they get turnovers, like everyone else, theyre tough to beat. But a lack of a pass rush in this league will get you lit up and against the high-powered New Orleans and Green Bay offenses, this was the case. In fact, in two games, wins, they had 10 sacks, and in the other five games they had 5 sacks, in which they were lucky to go 2-3. So which defense are they? That too, remains to be seen. But I will always question their offensive play-calling and philosophy. I know that comes as a shock! With this offensive line, and the caliber of running back Matt Forte they need to be a run-first offense. (Get off the bus RUNNING!) But sometimes their play-calling is mystifying. Well, maybe not. Mike Martz wants to drop back seven steps in the pocket and throw to a particular spot. The problem is a) These drops frequently get his QB killed and b)His QB is more accurate and has a higher QB rating when he moves OUTSIDE the pocket and c) You need to have receivers who know where that spot is that they need to be and have the ability to catch the ball, not drop it or let a defensive back take it away from them, when they get there. I honestly even less of an idea which Bears team will show up in a given week, although I think it was after taking their bye last year they were able to have a very accurate self-evaluation and played much more to their strengths on their run to the NFC championship game.

So what will happen Monday night? Well one thing, Frankie O is going to have a good time leading up to, during and hopefully, after the game. Among the things I know will happen: I will have at least 2 cheesesteaks during my visit. I will enjoy harassing my Chicago brethren and any other tourists I witness running up the art museum steps in front of the Rocky statue. And I will enjoy the constant complaining in the stands that accompanies any misstep the Eagles make during the game.(Did somebody say boo?) Some things never get old!

And for the game itself? I think the Bears play it close to the vest and feature a heavy dose of Matt Forte, exposing the weakness the Eagles have at the linebacker position. On defense Brian Urlacher will continue to haunt Mike Vick into the mistakes that will be the difference in the game. Final Bears 27-20.

Of course, I could be wrong, wouldnt be the first time. If you cant watch the game, to find out what happened, just come into the bar Tuesday night, the expression on my face and the banter over the bar will tell you all you need to know.

Wade in Bulls jersey: same material, different reality

Wade in Bulls jersey: same material, different reality

Media Day has become old hat for Dwyane Wade, so much so that he could go through the motions, interviews and promotional shots in Miami with his eyes closed.

But he looked like a wide-eyed rookie at times going through everything in the Advocate Center Monday, including the white-and-red jersey that was draped over his chest.

“It's really not the jersey. It's the same material so it feels the same,” he said. “It's a different environment. I was somewhere for so long, I knew where to go, I can walk backwards and get anywhere I want to go. It's just different, but different is not a bad thing.”

Comparing himself to the “new kid” in school, it won’t be long before Wade finds himself being the cool kid in class that everybody gravitates to and follows as an example, being a three-time champion and sure-fire Hall of Famer—at least that’s what the Bulls brass expects to happen.

“If I were a young player on this roster and I saw Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Taj Gibson, Robin (Lopez), I would soak up what they bring,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “As a young player you want to have longevity and success in this league and there's success right in front of them.”

Wade’s successes came in Miami, which makes Wade’s statement about things being different that much more pronounced—and before he can lead, he must adjust to the Bulls, and they to him.

His usage and his on-court role isn’t clear, as the Bulls are well-aware of the maintenance that comes with a player at his age—a player who was still pretty effective despite decline in the last few years.

“Our medical team and our athletic-performance team, we’ve visited some with him,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “But that’s going to be fluid. I don’t know that any definitive have come from that yet, but it’s obviously something that we’ll watch in regards to Dwyane being a little bit older but really to a number of our players.”

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Adjusting to his body, adjusting to a new city and even to a social conscience that has emerged since signing with the Bulls has been the theme of his summer.

His life—and the lives of many people close to him have changed in recent months and even days. From watching former teammate LeBron James bring home a title to Cleveland to his own departure from Miami after 13 years to sadly, watching Chris Bosh struggle with the news of his basketball mortality meeting up with the threat of his actual life, it’s been one after another after another.

“This news about basketball is unfortunate, and it was not nothing that he wanted to hear I'm sure, and nothing I wanted to hear for him and no one that loves Chris or is around him,” said Wade in reference to Bosh not being cleared by the Heat due to blood-clotting issues that ended Bosh’s last two seasons at the All-Star break. “It's another bump in the road in life that, from a basketball standpoint, Chris Bosh will figure out what he wants to do in life.”

“For Chris, it's a bump in the road for him in life. He's 31 years old, he's got a long life to live. Hopefully he'll get back on a basketball court. In a perfect world. But if not, for me, I'm just happy that we're able to be friends and enjoy life as friends and see him be healthy in that way.”

And oh yeah, he also stood in front of a nationally-televised audience at the ESPY awards two months ago, challenging his fellow athletes to take stock of what’s going on around them and more specifically, the ails plaguing people of color in this country.

It wasn’t so much a stand as much as it was a statement, and others have taken the baton to make waves that will be felt around the NBA.

His battle, he believes, is different from the one Colin Kaepernick is drawing attention to, as Wade sees the endless violence in Chicago and has jumped in feet first to make his presence known.

“I think Kaepernick educated a lot of us on things we didn't know, things we wasn't aware of. I think for me, things in this city that I've seen, we have a different kind of battle here in Chicago, a different focus,” Wade said. “That's what my focus is on. My focus is on this city and what am I capable of doing to help our youth in this city in a bigger way. That's where my focus is.”

“But what (Kaepernick) is doing is great because it's what he wants to do, it's what he believes in and he's using his voice for that cause.”

And as Wade turns the corner, a fresh start after a surprising divorce, the new old kid in town reiterated Chicago is the place for him—even as he adjusts.

“I'm figuring it all out,” he said. “Like I said, I'm happy to be here. At this time in my career, this is where I want to be.”

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

The busiest Bulls offseason since Gar Forman took as over as general manager and John Paxson became vice president in 2009 came to a close Monday with the unofficial start of the season. The Bulls begin training camp Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Advocate Center, and they’ll do so with eight new faces on the floor, and without perhaps the two biggest faces of the franchise in the 2010s.

But Paxson admitted in his press conference at media day “it was time” to turn the page on a talented group once expected to compete for an NBA title that never lived up to that billing. The decision to trade Derrick Rose and move on from free agent Joakim Noah – as well as Pau Gasol – were difficult ones given those players’ place in Bulls history, but also necessary to move the franchise forward into a new era.

“I didn’t feel that group had a collective fight to it,” Paxson said. “And I think all of us looking back on it, that was true. Change was necessary.

“We had ridden that group a long way. With a little more luck we might have had more success, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. And we just felt it was necessary to try to take some steps forward.”

And while the sweeping overhaul of the roster was noticeable on paper, management is also seeing a different culture transforming on the Near West Side of Chicago they hope will usher in this new period of Bulls basketball.

It’s the reason Forman and Paxson were excited to bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. With a combined 23 NBA seasons, 260 playoff games and four NBA titles, the two longest-tenured NBA veterans on the roster have already begun leaving their mark.

Forman noted specifically that Rondo has been around the team’s facility “a good part of the summer,” and that his work ethic and time spent in the community has rubbed off on his teammates. Wade walked around the Advocate Center floor with a certain larger-than-life persona, and the future Hall-of-Famer’s accolades speak for themselves. Paxson referred to Taj Gibson as “the ultimate pro,” and Jimmy Butler even noted Monday that he wants Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder than any player on the team, to use him as an example in practice and to “get on me about every little thing.”

“That’s another reason changes were necessary,” Paxson said of helping younger players progress. “And it’s created an environment in this building. We have to start from a base level, and a base level is culture and how guys go about their jobs every day. That’s why we’re talking about accountability.”

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Forman and Paxson are also excited about the balance they’ve created. There was some criticism about the Wade and Rondo signings after Forman had said the team was looking to get younger and more athletic – both Wade and Rondo have dealt with serious knee injuries in the past. In that sense, management feels as though they’ve done just that.

In addition to drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and German wing Paul Zipser, both of whom are 22, the Bulls received 23-year-old Jerian Grant and 28-year-old Robin Lopez in return for Rose. Add 23-year-old Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Canaan (25), and as Forman noted the Bulls will have 12 players in camp under the age of 27, in addition to 10 players with three years or fewer NBA experience.

“And in doing that (retooling with youth) you still want to create a culture that’s conducive to professionalism, a team-first attitude. Some of those things, those intangibles, that are so important. And having that type of veteran experience around your young guys is critical as we go through this phase that we’re changing over the roster.”

Of course, simply overhauling a roster to management’s liking won’t produce wins. That won’t automatically place the Bulls back in the playoffs after they missed out last season for the first time in 2008.

All the pieces need to fit together – no executive, coach or player who spoke Monday seemed overly concerned about Wade, Butler and Rondo (the three Alphas) sharing the spotlight – and head coach Fred Hoiberg will need to show improvements in his second season.

With a plethora of young talent comes training-camp battles that Paxson said will be healthy for the team. Players like Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, Valentine and whoever wins the back-up point guard spot will have not just the opportunity to learn from Wade, Rondo and Butler, but to play alongside them in expanded roles. Paxson went as far to say that how the Bulls’ role players perform “will probably dictate how well we do.”

It began with Forman and Paxson overhauling the roster, and continued into a busy summer full of individual workouts that impressed both upper management and the coaching staff. But now the speculation and critiques of the roster are over. The start of a new era has arrived in Chicago.

“The vibe that’s with this group right now is just really positive. I think ultimately the expectation (over the summer) was that they had to be professional in their approach every day,” Paxson said. “There’s going to be accountability to everything that they do, and that if we’re going to have any success in any way it’s going to come from us being together and giving great effort.

“That’s the great thing about a new season starting and putting together a team: it’s all out there in front of us.”