The Bulls played this long and meandering season for the privilege to be home Sunday night.
The very good team from Seattle won 64 games, the 10th-best record in the history of the league, but the even-better team from Chicago won 72 games, the best ever in pro basketball, and that superiority meant the Bulls would play the sixth game in front of their own people, and the seventh game, too, if necessary.
The seventh game will not be necessary. The Bulls outplayed and outwilled the SuperSonics, 87-75, to win their first championship since Michael Jordan began his interesting little subbatical in the fall of 1993.
Funny how the terrible collapse of the Bulls out West ended as soon as they got home. It is that way with territorial animals and it is that way with little children in a schoolyard and it is that way with superb athletes at the top of their field.
You are just naturally tougher and meaner at home. Michael Jordan could propel himself to the hoop just a little harder, letting the rebounds fall where they may. His teammates could flap their arms and wag their fingers to incite the crowd. They were home. They had earned it.
The Bulls were home in this beautiful, urbane city with the lakefront and the art museum and the skyscrapers. It was all so normal Sunday night. And now the rational people in this city could only hope there would be no major destruction of cars and storefronts, no injuries, the way there was in the first three championships of the Jordan era, from 1991 through 1993.
In retrospect, the Bulls’ big mistake was winning the first three games of this series so easily, so decisively. When the Sonics won the next two games, a case could be made for some cosmic shift of fortunes, but it was nothing like that. It was merely a case of a very good team winning two games at home.
There is a bit of a bully in all of us, that enjoys seeing the swell have his top hat knocked off by a snowball. No doubt the national mood for the sixth game was seeing Michael Jordan and his pals suffer for three more days, at least, facing a historic and embarrasing loss. No team had ever won the first three games and then lost a series. That record still stands.
But the Bulls were home. People were wearing red. The 3-point shots were dropping. The rebounds were finding Dennis Rodman’s fingertips again. The wandering was over.
These playoffs do go on a bit. It was June 16, and all over the NBA map, on their day of days, fathers had a perfect excuse to tell their families: “Hey, keep it quiet. I’m watching Brickowski and Rodman wrestle.”
No matter where the NBA finals are, June 16 is always Bloomsday, commemorating the journey of one Leopold Bloom through the city of Dublin on June 16, 1904, in James Joyce’s classic “Ulysses.”
Bloom set off from home in the morning, and his long day included a funeral, a birth, a horse race and a surreal journey through “Nighttown” in which the aforementioned Leopold Bloom encounters a series of bizarre characters.
To my knowledge, however, there was no such apparition as a 6-foot-8-inch athlete with earrings, tattoos, tie-dyed hair, plus high heels and a dress stored in his locker.
Bloom also has an enraged citizen throw a cracker tin at him in a pub. Everybody would have settled for a few flying cracker tins in this city once the Bulls had regained their championship that the Houston Rockets had borrowed while Michael was a right fielder. The Bulls were home.
The Sonics started the playoffs perceived as a bunch of strutters and dunkers who had never won anything worthwhile, while the Bulls were perceived as a team for the ages. By Sunday afternoon the Bulls seemed more for the aging than for the aged.
How shaky was Chicagoland? Shaky enough for the locals to dredge up every instance of the terrible tremors suffered by Chicago teams in this century. It is amazing how quickly they get back to the Cubs of 1969, when Leo Durocher didn’t rest his regulars in the sun-baked summer of Wrigley Field and paid for it in September, or the Cubs of 1984, who took a 2-0 lead in the National League championship round only to lose three straight to the Padres. Chicagoland always remembers.
By Bloomsday, the momentum had swung so far to the Sonics’ youth movement that even if the Bulls won, the Sonics might have challenged Jordan at the buzzer, “Hey, pal, how about making it five of nine?”
But after the Bulls broke this game open and won it, the Sonics trudged off to the dressing room rather than witness the flying helium-filled Bull and hearing the raucous tone of “We Are the Champions.” The wandering was over. Michael Jordan was home and the Bulls are champions again.