5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the hardest working beat writers in town who covers one of the best, if not THE best team in the NBA: the 2011-12 Chicago BullsBulls fans are hoping this guy keeps covering games for the next two months as the Bulls strive to bring the city its first NBA title since the Jordan erawhat are we waiting for, its playoff time for crying out loud!...get ready for 5 Questions withNEIL HAYES!

BIO: Neil Hayes returned to his native state in 2006 after spending 15 years covering the San Francisco Bay Area sports scene. Since being hired at the Sun-Times, he has covered Northwestern football, Notre Dame football, the Bears & Bulls, while also producing features and columns on other local and national sports stories. He is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Footballs Longest Winning Streak. His book inspired the ESPN documentary, 151: The Greatest Streak, which he also wrote. Hayes is also the co-author of The Last Putt: Two Teams, Two Dreams and a Freshman named Tiger. In 2005, he was named one of the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

The Northern Arizona University and Rochelle Township High School graduate grew up in a home where Bears Sundays were sacred. He also spent countless summer nights trying to make out shadowy White Sox players in what appeared to be a snowstorm on UHF Channel 44.

1) CSNChicago.com: Neil, with NBA Playoff time upon us once again, the thrilling prospect of another NBA championship returning to Chicago is on everyones mind, especially within the legions of die-hard Bulls fans in our city and around the globe. Optimism runs high among fans this time of year, especially with the teams solid starting line-up and very deep bench. Simple question: should we be optimistic about them winning it all this year? Your thoughts.

Hayes: After what this franchise has been through since Michael Jordan retired, youd be crazy not to. The Bulls, Heat, Spurs and Thunder are all championship contenders in my mind with the Celtics, Lakers and Pacers being potential dark horses. The Bulls are going to need some sort of advantage to get past the Heat, whether it be a Heat player being slowed by poor performance or injury or some lights-out shooting by Kyle Korver andor Rip Hamilton, but it can definitely be done. Derrick Roses health is the key, obviously, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will have to step up as well. Coach Tom Thibodeau also needs to find a way to use his bench as effectively in the postseason, when rotations are shortened, as he has during the regular season.

2) CSNChicago.com: If the stars align and both teams advance through the first two rounds as they are expected to, an Eastern Conference Finals re-match against LeBron & Co. seems very likely to occur once again. What are your top 3 on-court key elements that the Bulls need to accomplish to get past the Heat this year?

Hayes: They are going to have to match the Heats physicality. That was an issue in the regular-season finale between these two teams, when the Bulls were bullied by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Assuming Rose is healthy, they will also need Carlos Boozer to win his matchup with Chris Bosh, not only when it comes to scoring, but rebounding as well.

The Bulls ability to dominate the boards is a great equalizer, and they were out-rebounded in the last game in Miami.

Finally, they are going to need the Bench Mob to really step up and make a difference, by which I mean make some shots. It may be Taj Gibson, who can make an impact on both ends of the court, or perhaps Korver, as I mentioned earlier, or even John Lucas III hitting some timely threes. Omer Asik was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Many inside the Bulls organization believe not having Asik to defend the rim when Noah was on the bench was a huge factor in that series.

3) CSNChicago.com: As youve naturally already read, GQ recently published an interview with Bulls superstar Derrick Rose. In that interview, Rose stated hes still not used to the limelight and all the well-deserved attention he receives on a daily basis. He also discussed how Michael Jordans six titles with the Bulls drives him and makes him work even harder. In your opinion, is it even fair to put that kind of pressure on D-Rose at this early point in his career to compare him to MJ?

Hayes: I dont think anybody puts that pressure on Derrick. He puts it on himself. Hes a very driven individual and that drive is largely responsible for where he is today. It defines who he is. As far as handling fame, Derrick is one of the most unique athletes Ive ever covered. Ive never meet anybody -- inside or outside of sports -- who is as genuinely humble and sincere. Thats why the story about him going to management and asking them to trade Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol earlier this season didnt make sense to me. If you know Derrick, even a little bit, you know hes not capable of that type of manipulation. Hes just not wired that way. Hes an introvert in a very extroverted world. He will grow more accustomed how he will have to live his life, but he will never be comfortable being the center of attention anywhere other than a basketball court.

4) CSNChicago.com: As someone who has interviewed countless pro athletes in the NBA, NFL and many other sports over the years, whos been your favorite athlete to interview and why?

Hayes: Interesting question. I used to have great conversations with ex-49ers quarterback Steve Young. He was the most down-to-earth superstar Ive been around. He was one of the highest paid athletes in sports and was living in a loft he was remodeling himself. He even changed his own oil. I remember a long conversation with him about handling fame. He said, Fame is an elaborate hoax the world plays on you. He went on to say if an athlete wants to get noticed, hell wear the most expensive clothes, sunglasses and be ushered into private dining rooms with his entourage. He found the best way to go unnoticed was to put his name on the restaurant's waiting list, sit down and wait like everybody else. I thought that was a refreshing perspective.

As far as Chicago guys, Paul Konerko is everything you think he is. Hes as thoughtful and humble as it gets. his Bulls teams might be the best collection of athletes in one locker room Ive ever worked with, and that extends to general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson. What they say about hockey players is true, too. Most come from blue-collar backgrounds and are amazingly level-headed and easy to deal with. For the most part, they dont worry about spinning things. They are the most accountable group of athletes youll ever be around.

5) CSNChicago.com: Lastly, and this one is hard-hitting Neil so get ready: tell us your favorite basketball-themed movie(s) of all-time. Interviewers note: TVs The White Shadow is an acceptable answer.

Hayes: I loved "The White Shadow" as a kid. I never missed an episode. Ironically enough, Thomas Carter, who played James Hollywood Hayward during the three-year series run, is now a Hollywood director who has signed on to direct a movie based on my first book, When the Game Stands Tall. I havent yet had a chance to pick his brain about his days on the set of "The White Shadow," but I will. Im also a sucker for "Hoosiers." Its not only a great basketball movie, but one of the great sports movies of all time. Hoop Dreams was also excellent.

Hayes LINKS

Chicago Sun-Times Sports official home page

Neil Hayes on Facebook

Neil Hayes on Twitter

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 34th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Grab a pocket pack of tissues for this one.

Bears icon Charles Tillman released an emotional tell-all article on The Players' Tribune Thursday.

He starts off discussing how often he moved around as a kid with his dad in the Army and little things like learning cursive before delving into growing up in Germany and learning to communicate through sports.

It then moves on to the NFL Draft and coming up through the Bears with Lance Briggs, then jumping to the Super Bowl and what it was like to cover Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison.

Tillman even provides a fascinating take on how being a new dad affected his play on the field because he was so tired and stressed.

It was refreshing to hear a player talk like that. In everyday life, you hear all the time about first-time parents being exhausted and stressed, but now one of the most elite athletes in the world — whose job is exclusively in the public eye and his performance is dissected weekly by millions — is saying the same thing.

He discusses how he got past that stress and at this point, you're nearly halfway through the article and it's easy to think this is just like any other athlete's story.

But then Tillman gets serious and the story turns heart-wrenching.

The man affectionately known as "Peanut" takes us into the hospital room as he and his wife are told their young daughter, Tiana, may not make it through the night.

Tillman recounts the gripping tale behind how his family very nearly fell apart and how they climbed back to where they are today.

Give it a read. It's a fantastic snapshot into the career of one of the best Bears players ever, but also into the life of one of the truly great people to ever put on the orange and navy.