Derrick and I made similar faces last night. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Miami Heat overcame a 10-point Chicago lead with three minutes left to end the Bulls' season. Even a day later, we're still not over it.
A day ago, I advised not taking Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals particularly seriously, because, after all, every living, breathing human being had already pronounced our Bulls dead in the water after their Game 4 loss in Miami. This season felt finished the moment Derrick Rose airballed a nearly impossible jumper over LeBron James to send that game into overtime, and no matter what sort of revisionist history some may want to spin today, you would be hard-pressed to find a Bulls fan or NBA devotee who believed otherwise. I took my own advice last night: instead of living and dying on every possession in the comforts of a living room like I had done on Tuesday, I decided to go to a local establishment to watch Game 5.
As anyone who's ever watched a hyper-important sports game at a bar -- everyone, I'm assuming -- knows, it's an entirely different atmosphere. It's noisy, you can't really hear the commentary, there's constant distractions, you're surrounded by people who aren't nearly as invested in the proceedings as you are. It's simply harder to follow the action with 100 percent of your consciousness. I try to avoid it most of the time, particularly since I've straddled myself with the task of writing these overly ambitious critiques after all playoff games . But because of the way every game of these Eastern Conference Finals has played out, with each fourth quarter feeling like either a constant barrage of tiny heart attacks or maybe just a single massive one, I thought it would be best to detach myself from Game 5 as much as possible. Since nothing bad can happen when you're surrounded by friends and beer, it seemed like the obvious move.
I've taken it upon myself to take notes during every one of these Bulls playoff games, using a reporters notebook from my Chicago Sun-Times days as the last remnant of a deceased journalism career. My friend Kelly tossed me a purple marker around tip-off -- of course I forgot to bring a pen -- and as I look at the pad hours later, I have three pages loaded with unfortunately colored notes about Game 5. I suppose we could talk about them. Luol Deng's great dunk over LeBron, Korver *finally* connecting on a three-pointer, Big Sexy getting some quality burn. I doubt any of that is important right now, though. NBA detractors -- the maggots that they are -- like to say that only the final few minutes of each game matters, that there's no point in sitting through an entire pro basketball contest. While that's false the vast majority of the time, occasionally there's no way to get around it. Yes, this is the case with Game 5.
Because of the atmosphere and the state of my brain during the final few minutes of the Bulls' season, this won't be the most detailed game recap. I'm sure there are plenty of great ones floating around somewhere in the ether. What I can tell you, though, is how the mood and feeling of an entire building, of an entire fanbase, of an entire 23-year old dude did a 180 degree turn in what seems like record time. Calling those final three minutes a blur isn't doing it justice. That shit was an atomic bomb: with devastation as vast as this, is there any point in documenting the actual events that led to where we're at this morning? I'd rather avoid it all together, but I suppose it's necessary. This is what my notebook says: the Bulls were up 10 with three minutes left, the Bulls were up five with two minutes left, the Bulls were tied at 79 with one minute left, the Bulls were defeated by three when the final horn sounded. Dwyane Wade converted an And-1, LeBron hit a three, Wade finished a four-point play, LeBron stuck a jumper in some vague defender's eye. Just like that, the Bulls had blown an unblowable lead, and this immaculate season was over. I was bummed out and I am still bummed out. That game was Brett Favre.
I don't recall saying a word in the moments immediately following Game 5, I think I just sort of slouched in my chair 42 percent drunk and thought about why this is the way I choose to spend my leisure time. A few friends, each much more intoxicated and much less invested than I was, tried to cheer me up, but of course, that only makes a person feel worse in times like these. Sometimes you need to be sad. This was one of those moments. I felt like burying my head in a pillow, listening to Elliott Smith on loop until I couldn't take it anymore. Even now, the morning after, I don't feel much better. I really believe this is the second most devastating loss in my 23-years, trailing only the the Bears' NFC Title Game loss to Green Bay a few months back. By the way, I'm a Sox fan, so I guess I'm fortunate that this list isn't longer.
If there's an O'Donnell family tradition, it's that I jump on the phone with my old man after every Bears game and every important Bulls game. It was late and I knew he needed to be up in the morning to prescribe miracle drugs to sick people, so I didn't make the phone call. Instead, I texted my mom during the peak of my Sad Boy phase at the bar and told her to relay a message (dad doesn't text; he still uses a beeper), an action that is so impossibly lame I won't even try to defend myself this morning. Whatever, this was our exchange, verbatim, between 10:31 and 10:38 p.m.:
Me: Tell dad I'm going to swallow an entire set of kitchen knives.
Mom: What a game! How are you otherwise?
Me: I'm awesome.
Mom: What are your plans this weekend?
Me: New Buffalo or possibly never waking up.
Mom: Don't take it so hard dad did his usual thing and went to bed with 2 minutes remaining in the game.
That final message made me laugh out loud. LOL, as the kids say. There are times when I think I care too much about sports, but then I take solace in the fact that I'll never be as bad as my father. He can't even look at the TV when pressure reaches its climax. He watched John Paxson hit the decisive shot of the 1993 NBA Finals on a TV at Walmart because the intensity was so high he had to leave the house. He loves the Bears more than anything in the entire world -- wife and children absolutely included -- but played Solitaire on our family computer by himself during the entire second half of Chicago's Super Bowl XLI loss to the Colts. He's weird, or maybe just as irrevocably devoted to Chicago sports in the same way so many people in this city are. Regardless, his reaction didn't surprise me one bit, and in hindsight, he's actually lucky he never had to watch the waning few moments of this mostly magical Bulls season.
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The White Stripes - The Big Three Killed My Baby
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Five Important Things I Either Overhead or Text Messages I Received Immediatley following the Buzzer
"The Easter Bunny isn't real."
"The NBA predetermines who they want to win and tell the referees to officiate the games accordingly."
"You have to hit rock bottom before you can be freed," as the Wicker Park bar I was in started playing Dave Matthews and Good Charlotte.
"Cheer up! You're not going to be able to experience 35 degree weather in Chicago on May 26 much longer!"
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I can only assume today will be filled with talk of about how this was a good season, and roster construction moving forward. There's plenty of time for that stuff, because, let's be honest, baseball sucks. For right now, though, I can't help but be offended by anyone who would dare raise the two points at the beginning of this paragraph. Good season? Ugh. This was Bulls-Heat for the right to go to the NBA Finals. Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, Chicago Tough vs. South Beach Indifference. As I said at TUP in my pre-series pump-up post, "there are no silver linings". Shooting guard hole? Well yeah, obviously, but this isn't the time. The Bulls could have beaten these Miami Heat without Aaron Afflalo, O.J. Mayo, or Jason Richardson. They had this series, especially the last two games. So winnable. So damn winnable.
Perhaps what my friend Dan said was true, that you must hit rock bottom before finding salvation. It's an NBA truth that you need to lose in the playoffs before you can win, and perhaps the losing Derrick Rose and the Bulls did in the first round the last two seasons simply wasn't enough. They'll be back, and that's comforting. But for right now, I don't want to hear it. This season was a fairytale from the start, in the coming days and weeks I'm sure it'll dawn on me that the 2010-2011 Chicago Bulls are among my favorite sports teams ever.
Not yet, though. It's still a little too soon.