By Frankie O
Well now that football is over, we can begin the Derrick Rose watch. At least that’s for me, and judging from the numbers, it’s the same for the rest of Chicago. The difference here being though, I’ve at least been watching this scrappy bunch of over-achievers. Of course people are going to the games, why not, it’s a lot of fun. In fact, the Bulls are once again leading the league in attendance, this being the fourth-straight season they’ve done so. Even more impressive, they’ve been either first or second in the league for the last nine seasons. You would think that would make this a basketball town. But much like it rose (pun?) from the abyss during the Jordan years becoming more of a Jordan town than a Bulls one, it seems to be the case once again with a local superstar. Much was made at the beginning of the season this was a “throw away” year. With Rose on the mend for about four months and a new, but not necessarily improved bench, the bar was definitely set very low. Well I guess this doom and gloom was listened to. While the United Center remains full, mostly due to pre-sold tickets, the TV viewership has dropped precipitously. Last year, even though Rose was injured and missed 27 of the lockout-shortened 66 during the regular season, the Bulls experienced a 30% increase in viewership over the 2010-11 season with Comcast SportsNet Chicago having their three highest rated telecasts ever including the 300,000+ that watched a Pacers game in January setting their all-time record.
This years’ drop is happening while the Blackhawks are setting all-time records almost every night they play lately.
As a bartender, I can see this happening. I have a lot more people that are interested in watching Hawks games than I can remember. Winning builds fan bases.
I’ve often said that most of the 20-somethings that I serve are Bulls fans since they grew up with MJ leading the Bulls to six titles. Now, in the wake of the 2010 Stanley Cup, the Hawks have become the “it” team of the winter. They’re fast start, 9-0-2, has only added a ton of fuel to the fire. We fans were told that a fast start was imperative in this shortened season and the Hawks have taken this mandate to ridiculous levels.
But as much fun as this Hawks season has been to watch, and it’s only going to get, better, I think fans are missing some great basketball by not tuning into Bulls games.
That the Hawks are setting viewership records during the last four weeks should come as no surprise. This past holiday season saw prices on High-definition flat screens at incredibly low prices. Everybody has one over their fireplace. There’s nothing better than enjoying watching your favorite team and having a nice, warming fire and maybe a snack and maybe something cool to drink. (Or should I say icy cold!)
But you would think that would translate into bigger numbers for the Bulls also.
What else are people doing? They’re not outside. Are they?
The Bulls are fun TV too.
At 29-20 they have to be exceeding everyone’s expectations don’t they?
I remember being on CTL at the beginning of the season and when I said I thought the Bulls could win 50 games I was greeted with eye-roles and the “He’s just a bartender, what does he know” smirks.
Who’s smirking now?
My main reason for having that optimism was coach Tom Thibodeau. He demands his teams play defense. He prepares them as well as any team in the league. And, he expects max effort every night. That kind of mentality, along with what is, besides the Heat, a less than impressive Eastern Conference, led me to believe they could be a little better than expected.
What has really impressed me with him though is that every guy seems to understand his role and no matter who is on the floor they play to that expectation. Given the circumstances, he’s by far my Coach of the Year.
With Rose gone, the two guys that seemed to have benefitted most are Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. With Noah handling the ball a lot near the top of the key, it has opened up the lane and underneath for Booz to operate and he’s put up his best offensive numbers as a Bull. Noah is cranked up energy and a Mr. Everything on the stat sheet. He does whatever it takes and he’s done it enough to earn his 1st All-Star berth. I swear I’ve even seen Boozer give some effort on the defensive end. Give some, get some I guess.
Luol Deng is his usual underrated All-Star self, providing the glue that holds everything together.
One of the fun games we play at the bar is to guess which guard is going to be injured next, Kirk Hinrich or Rip Hamilton, currently Hinrich is “it.” Doesn’t bother me as long as they’re ready for the playoffs. Just consider it rest for old weary bones.
But the real fun has been the new guys, or the new Bench Mob 2.0.
Nate Robinson has been as fun to watch as any player in the league. The Bulls are his 5th team in four years so you know he has some baggage. Plus, at 5’6” defense can sometimes be an issue, never a good thing with Coach Thibs, but he is never afraid to take a shot and is the teams 4th leading scorer mostly coming in off the bench. He also provided the comedic moment of the season when he got his 1st dunk of the season. He’s a three-time NBA slam-dunk champion, and his teammates where wearing him out about his not having one in a game. His reaction after the elusive moment was priceless as was that of his teammates on the bench, which was captured on TV for all to see I might add.
The most improved award would go to second-year man Jimmy Butler. Where he was timid and deferential last year, circumstance has dictated that he gets more minutes, a lot more, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity big time. It’s part of the fun of a long season to watch a player start to blossom and gain confidence that he belongs in the league and to stake his claim and that is Butler.
Marco Belinelli has proven to be a backup guard that can actually create his shot and also hit the open one too, although he’s not really the long-distance shooter we were led to believe. And, did I mention he has a beard? How cool is that?
And lately Bench Mob staple Taj Gibson is starting to play to the level expected of someone who signed a four-year $38 million extension before the start of the season. I thought he would be the one to take the quantum leap this year, as opposed to Butler, but he’s still a valuable piece even though, as he told me on CTL, Mark Shanowski believes he’s nothing more than a career backup.
But of course the real fun will start when D Rose returns.
I know it will be hard to turn down the expectations, especially in the wake of the year that Adrian Peterson had in the NFL, becoming the MVP after recovering from a similar injury, but, well, who knows? Logic would tell you that it is going to take one of the more explosive NBA players a while to regain that explosion, if he ever does, but did you see Peterson?!?!
The team’s play so far has assured that, barring a monumental collapse, they will be in the playoffs. Hopefully by that time Rose will have enough time to renew his on-court relationships and also come close to the level of play that we have become accustomed to. The thoughts of what can happen upon his return are very tantalizing to say the least. But, first, he has to come back. Things have to be done one step at a time. The team is going to need time to grow.
The one thing I can guarantee through all of this though is that I will be watching every step along the way. I don’t want to miss a thing. This has been a fun season to watch and it is only going to get better.
The question I have to ask Chicago is, will you?