Monday, May 04, 2009

A Swan Song for the Bulls

It’s hard to argue with my father when he says the greatest series in sports he’s ever witnessed was the 2004 ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Boston, after being down 3-0 to the hated Yanks, rallied to win the series. They were the first team in baseball history to do that, and they did it against their biggest rivals. Okay, fine. That’s probably the greatest series I’ve ever seen in any sport.

But the second best? This Bulls/Celtics series, hands down. If you follow all the media coverage you already know the statistics—four overtime games in seven meetings, seven overtime periods, well over a hundred lead changes, and more last-second shots than any healthy human heart can tolerate.

When the Bulls finally lost the series on Saturday night, I felt horrible. Watching sports has extended beyond just entertainment value since I’ve been covering the games, because I actually know these guys. I don’t view the disappointment and jubilation of the players filtered through a television screen; I’ve been so close to it at times that I could actually smell it (it’s not always the most floral of scents, lemme tell ya).

Derrick Rose is a fantastic kid, and because I’ve got former students two or three years older than him I can’t help but see him the same way I see my kids. I root for him, I slap him on the back after an interview, and, at times, I’ve even told him I’m proud of him (like that should matter to him, but he knows I’m a teacher and it seems like when I say that, it actually does matter to him). After wins he manages to stay modest, but after a loss he hangs his head and his eyes get a little droopy. He’s hard on himself.

So is Ben Gordon, who is one of the more intelligent guys to chat with on the team (though you wouldn’t think so after hearing he turned down a $55 million contract last summer). He carries losses around on his shoulders like a backpack filled with stones. He hates losing, and he hates when the loss is in any way his fault.

After game five, when Brad Miller missed his free-throws after getting clobbered in the face, he talked later about he barely slept. This stuff matters to these guys, and because I’m on a first-name basis with these people, knowing the emotion and effort they put into a losing effort in this historic series has left me pretty bummed out.

It’s always a sad day when basketball season ends. Any time I make the drive to Chicago over the course of the next five months will feel empty without the usual trip to the United Center. It just sucks to be on the losing end of that much emotion. It’s like dating a girl for five years, asking her to marry you, and hearing her say “no.”

Covering a professional sports team changes the way you watch the game, and in a lot of ways I’m grateful for that. But because I’m in closer with the guys than I used to be, losses come that much more painfully. I’ll survive—it’s not like I’m the one who has to lose sleep over this thing—but there’s some vicarious disappointment to be experienced here.

Should you feel bad for me, you’ll have wasted your emotion. This is a swan song, that’s all. Welcome to Monday. I hope you’re thoroughly depressed now. Have a great week!

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