By Frankie O
As anyone who knows me can tell you, or even someone who unwittingly comes into my proximity, the sports affliction I possess is pretty serious. At front and center of this is rooting for my teams, those that I grew up following with a passion being raised in the Philadelphia area: The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed by their travails and exploits. Some might even call the enthusiasm I have for my teams a borderline mental disorder. I dont know about that, but, at this point, what can I do?
Even moving over 700 miles away hasnt dampened my fervor. That this would puzzle some people puzzles me even more. Among the top-5 questions that I get asked at the bar is about which of the cities teams that I root for: Philadelphia or Chicago? I often viewed this query as being ignorant to what being a fan is all about. You dance with who brung ya. Obviously, switching allegiances to any flavor of the monthduring my lifetime could have saved me years of heartache. We all know Yankees or Dallas Cowboys fans that have never set foot in either city. But Im too far in at this point. A parallel might be: for better or for worse. Why must my teams torture me? WHY?!! Ive come to the realization that this is the VERY reason that they were put on this earth: To mess with my mental well-being at every opportunity. (Wow! That is quite a parallel!)
I know some of you are saying, But, Frankie O, you had the Phillies of 08. And Ill reply: Do the math! Since 1983 4 teams per year, 1 freaking title! ONE. 1 out of 116. Whatever!
The thing that probably drives me most crazy is the spectacular way in which my teams choose to lose. There are no easy ways out when you can make your failure one for the ages. I need only mention The football Dream Team, the 2011 baseball Cardinals or a humongously crazy Russian goalie. And thats all in just the last year!
As you notice, I only referenced three teams. Thats because almost since I moved here 17 years ago, the Sixers, already regulated to 4 status, were gradually losing my interest. Now remember Im talking Frankie O interest, (Whenever you can go 3rd person, DO IT!) so compared to someone normal, I still spent way too much time on them. But even during the run to the NBA Finals in 2001, the team did not conjure the passion in me the way the other 3 teams did. Call it the Iverson effect. Talented player, but he seemed to me to represent what I didnt like about the NBA. Not that it was just him, the Jerry Stackhouse-Derrick Coleman didnt help things either, but the selfishness of their basketball was hard to watch. My nickname for Iverson was 9 for 27 since that was his shooting line every night. Im not kidding, look it up!
Anyway, in retrospect, what has now happened now should make sense. My memories of Doctor J, Mo Cheeks or Bobby Jones will never be tarnished or go away. But to sound my age, basketball was better then. Old school! This all would contribute to make me what they would call vulnerable. It wasis my weakest link.
Now the Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises in the NBA and renowned around the world. Thank you Michael Jordan! I moved here just at the end of his hiatus in 1995. Watching the Bulls and living here during the Second Three, was very cool. But as Ive written before, there was a disconnect for me, since I wasnt from here. I didnt feel that I had earned the right to be a Bulls fan and hopping on the bandwagon while they were winning titles was in bad form. I did however share the anger when they were disbanded way too early for all of our enjoyment. Any NBA fan should have felt that way.
That led to the Dark Ages for basketball in this town: Six straight years of missing the playoffs. 119-341. Ouch! Yet all during that time I watched. Of course when you spend most of your nights in a bar you cant help yourself, but still, watching those teams night after night takes some sort of devotion. (Or sickness, which is right up my alley!)
Then Scott Skiles took over as coach and along with an infusion of talent, thats when the team began to be fun to watch. Now mind you, this wasnt top-of-the-mountain talent, but they seemed to get the most out of it and this appealed to me. Theres something about scrappy teams.
Each of these teams met an early demise, but again, this is the NBA, where superior talent always wins and the Bulls still didnt have that. Scrappy teams get a wink for pluck and then have a nice summer.
Then, in a lottery winning moment, the Bulls hit the lottery-literally and Derrick Rose became a Bull, a home-grown talent as good as any player in the league. Bring in a coach as focused as Rose is talented and for the Bulls it was: game on!
During my time here, there are these little games within the game that occur when a team from Philly plays a team from Chicago. This I have written ad nauseam and I do mean nauseam! But every time, it was never in doubt for whom I was rooting. This has led to many uncomfortable moments, on both sides, but only when my team lost! Rest assured, I will have to live with the memory of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and not be at all happy. But no grudges and no worries, its not like that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Close, but not quite.
Imagine the surprise of Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren when he sat at the bar on the eve of the Flyers-Hawks game here a year later and Frankie O (3-ball!) let it all out. That was very cool. Cooler yet was the fact that Holmgren seemed to encourage me to get it all out. Love that guy!
Its a torment that I will have to carry by myself, (Along with a select 3 others that are in my same boat.) and since thats the way it is I will just have to deal until my pain is eased, some year. (Not that any of the teams seem to be in much hurry!)
Which brings me to a crossroad, and a confession.
When it became apparent, that the Bulls and Sixers were going to meet in the playoffs this year, I had a decision to make. I was asked a bunch about it but not as much by those who knew me well, Im sure they just assumed what the answer would be. Those who did ask, and did know me, just kind of gave me blank looks. Awkward!!
They must have been thinking: Who is this imposter? This cant be Frankie O! (There should be a drinking game where every time I type Frankie O, you have to drink when you read it! Twice in 2 sentences! Boo-Ya!)
Well, it is. Ive come out of the closet. The Bulls have been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. Like I said, what I have is a sickness! Even rooting for a team where I live is not something I take lightly or without guilt. Im a Philly fan for crying out loud! How could this have happened? But the Sixers and I have been growing apart for a while now, might as well face facts. I was ripe for the picking.
This series has forced me to be honest about my dishonesty, because, in a way, thats how I feel. Still I cant deny the feelings that I have for the Bulls. They are the type of team that I want to root for. They play hard. They show up every night. And most importantly, they havent broken my heart year after year! They are something shiny and new.
It was hardest to tell my kids, but I think they understand. It will be confusing for them for a while, but well get through it. In fact, my son even watched Game Six with me in his Bulls tee shirt.
Young minds, they heal fast!
It is here that we get to the series and the kick in the stomach that it was for Bulls fans, like me, in fact, especially me. I cant help feeling that Ive watched this before, say for the last 28 years!
This wasnt supposed to happen! I cant help but feel a little responsible. Is this because of me? Is this the curse of Frankie O? (Chug-a-lug!)
Have I now brought a lifetime of suffering to new, unsuspecting masses?
If so, my bad, I couldnt help myself. The allure of the Bulls was too big, too fast and too strong. Im only a man, and a weak one at that.
So bear with me as we move forward. What doesnt kill us only makes us stronger, at least thats what people I know have been telling me forever.
But there was a certain familiarity as I watched the Bulls season blow-up right in front of my face. Ive been experiencing this for as long as I can remember. If only the Bulls....
I guess the grass really isnt greener. Its just grass 730 miles west, same as it ever was.