I'm a Bulls fan extremely mad online. If you aren't sure why, Ricky O'Donnell summed it up best here.
Below you'll find the application I'll be sending to 29 other teams. It's simple, straightforward, and if answered correctly, will fix my problem of having bumbling idiots running basketball operations for my favorite team.
Obviously I'm kidding. The Bulls will always be the center of my civic pride. But it's heartbreaking to watch a franchise openly express zero interest in assembling a dynamically run organization.
Yes, we've had it really good as Bulls fans. We've had the blessing of watching six championships with the greatest athlete to ever play the game. But now, nearly 21 years since Michael left, the organization has watched the city's two baseball teams each win a World Series, three Stanley Cups, and a Bears team turn a toxic culture into a Super Bowl contender coming of age under the right coach.
But the Bulls are lazy. They refuse to put the work into winning another title. Instead they keep hoping with enough Jordan era nostalgia we'll keep blindly handing over our money without ever seeing just how little they respect us. That's why they've never changed the logo, or the uniform, or why they plant Scottie Pippen courtside for every game. They're hoping we just keep thinking about the 90's when things were perfect. But we're not as dumb as John Paxson thinks we are. The game is more accessible than ever with the advent of League Pass and sharing highlights online. There are no big markets anymore. Only superstars with massive follower counts. And the Bulls transparent dysfunction has kept every free agent superstar from ever landing in Chicago.
And It's not just here in Chicago. The Bulls are still incredibly popular in Asia. David Stern had the brilliant, but also like no duh dude, idea to take the game globally as Michael Jordan's stock soared. But those 90's kids in Asia have grown up. A lot of them have their own children who will probably fall in love with basketball like their parents did. Who are they seeing on TV or YouTube? Not Cameron Payne, or Jabari Parker. They're watching Steph, Embiid, LeBron, Harden, and Durant.
By refusing to do what's right and fire John Paxson and Gar Forman, the Bulls continue to alienate their fan-base and decimated their growth potential. After Jordan's run, they had an opportunity to be the next Lakers, or Celtics, or Yankees. Instead of working at becoming a multi-decade institution of greatness, they've made nearly every wrong decision possible and show no signs of accountability.
Until ownership sells the team, this is what we can always expect - a dysfunctional, condescending misery. I'm just so sick of it.
Do you remember where you were when James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets? I was meeting my brother's new girlfriend (now loving wife) for the first time at her apartment. It was a Halloween party and SportsCenter was muted in the background. I came as Rick from The Walking Dead and regretted my decision. A costume sheriffs hat somehow made me look fatter in the bathroom mirror.
The news suddenly broke on the eve of the 2012-13 NBA season. I quickly forgot about my bloated, drunken face as the ESPN ticker flew across the screen. The Oklahoma City Thunder were unable to reach a contract extension with Harden. They were sending the 6'5" shooting guard to Houston for Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin. Pleasant conversation stamped out with an eruption of incomprehensible shouting as OKC had just broken up its budding nucleus. The moment the trigger for the Harden deal was pulled, one of the best bar arguments of all time was born.
What if the Thunder never traded James Harden?
The last memory of Harden in OKC was the 2012 NBA Finals Game 5 blowout loss resulting in LeBron James' first NBA title. A defeated Harden hung his tired arms over Westbrook and Durant's shoulders on the bench as the 4th quarter slipped into garbage time. It was a tough moment to watch, but expectation was they'd bounce back. At the time, the young core was made up of Durant, 23, Westbrook, 23, and Harden, 22. Reigning titans of the Western Conference, Dirk, Kobe, and Duncan, were quickly decimated in the playoffs by Harden's firepower, Durant's dominance, and Westbrook's fearlessness. There was no doubt they’d be back next year.
Harden was still coming off the bench in 2012. His development grew exponentially after the trade, but back then his future as a starter was obvious. So instead, what if the Thunder traded a variety of contracts to keep Harden and promote him to a starting role? Each member of the trio probably doesn't win an MVP award. Each would make less money over time by sacrificing to keep the core together. But it would all be worth it as they would eventually win a couple titles and stifle the South Beach super team. The rise of the Golden State dynasty would be less meteoric and it's possible Durant never joins them in 2016.
It's hard to imagine Harden as anything but a Houston Rocket. As the winner of the 2018 NBA MVP, he joins the ranks of legendary Rockets' big man, Hakeem Olajuwon. As time passes, people will forget about Harden's stop in OKC the same way they did with Hakeem in Toronto. If Harden was never traded then perhaps he wouldn't have become the MVP he is today. Maybe there was just too much talent on one team for it to ever work. It could be Harden was always meant to be more than the third piece.
The hypothetical is a blackhole of bar conversation — tempting to approach but impossible to not get sucked in. It's up there with great conversations like what if Shaq didn't leave Orlando, if Michael never left in 1993, and if the Lakers/Chris Paul trade wasn't vetoed.
But with the Harden trade, I always wonder this: What if Clay Bennet never relocated the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City? Would playing for a historic franchise in an established market impacted this young core differently? Would the fanfare received from the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl victory enticed coveted NBA free agents to sign with the Sonics? Would the Sonics have kept their iconic jerseys or redesigned them to reflect a new era?
The greatest what if of this decade will never be answered. Like when a marriage between friends suddenly ends, it hurts you to see their future dissolve. Each one of them now living very separate lives in different cities. Embellished stories of rifts and betrayals generates gossip, but nostalgia from old photos occasionally resurface loving memories.
Regardless of the paths the three men took, their talent and achievements should be celebrated and appreciated. Perhaps the journeys they're on now were always meant to be this way regardless of any trade or franchise relocation. No bar argument can ever answer what could have been. The only thing any NBA fan should do now is enjoy watching the rest of their brilliant careers unfold.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.