The Chicago Bulls were dealt a major blow Saturday with the loss of Derrick Rose to a season ending knee injury. With 1:10 left in the fourth quarter all of the oxygen was sucked out of The United Center when he went tumbling to the ground grimacing in pain. The reigning MVP has meant so much to the revitalization of the Chicago Bulls to championship contenders after almost a decade of mediocrity of a once proud franchise.
Life is funny sometimes one minute you are up and in an instant you can be dealt a terrible blow. The Bulls are owners of the NBA’s top record as well as the league’s most suffocating defense led by one of the league’s top coaches in Tom Thibodeau. What inspired me to write this article is how everyone jumped off Chicago’s bandwagon in an instant. The same people who were praising this team were giving them a death sentence in an instant. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people don’t stay loyal when the chips are down. Loyalty has always been something that I take very seriously and to see so many people lose their support to the Bulls is troubling to me. Like I mentioned before they love you when you are on top forget about you on the way down. Adversity shows it’s ugly head once again and as usual the weak minded run for the hills.
A few things people are forgetting here is the Bulls are used to playing without Derrick Rose this year boasting an 18-9 without him, 7 wins coming against playoff teams including Miami, Celtics twice, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Orlando. They have one of the league’s best frontcourts having the combination of block scoring in Boozer and energetic defensive minded players in Noah,Asic, and Gibson. Tom Thibodeau is the NBA’s most prepared coach being known as one of the top defensive coaches to come down the pike in a long time and a basketball savant. Defensively, they lead the league in defense letting up only 88.2 points per game which says a lot of the culture Thibodeau has created for the Bulls.
I can mention statistics all I want, but this is a question of people stepping up. The Bulls have all the tools to make it to the NBA finals. They have no time to feel sorry for themselves as they are professionals and this is what they do for a living. Isn’t the NBA the land of opportunity for average players to step up and become heroes while stepping up when needed? Yes without Rose this lets a lot of air out of their championship balloon, but doesn’t automatically eliminate them from contention. When you have a basketball culture where all players and staff are on the same page you always have a chance to win. This should be a teaching point to all teams as building a basketball culture is more important than having talent. Building a culture is something that needs to be instilled before anything else in your program. Establishing boundaries on and off the court and having every one of your players buy into this is your foundation. With their record without Rose this shows that everyone understands their roles and step up to make up for the missing points and presence that he has.
Without Rose the Bulls are the only team in the playoffs without a clear cut number one scoring option. They remind me of another team that didn’t have a true go to guy. The 2003-2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons had the same make up of this Bulls team. They had a group that didn’t posses great scoring or that one stud offensively. They featured a group that played as a unit, totally smothered teams on the defensive end allowing only 84.3 points per game. Their roster reminds me a lot of this Bulls team as they play together and share the basketball. Like Thibodeau, Larry Brown had his team believing in defense and establishing their roles and held them accountable. There was no star on that team either, just 15 players that played as a unit and checked their egos at the door.
There is too much quitting that is in our culture these days. Young people think that their only option is to quit when adversity hits. Learning how to deal with it is a major teaching point to life’s lessons. Not everything is going to be easy and given to them and life gets hard at times. In basketball or any sport you can’t train a team to lean on one player to the point where if you take them out of the lineup that the team sinks. A coach needs to empower the team to know that they are capable of doing big things when given an opportunity to do so. Establishing roles is the key to building a great team and keeping everyone inside of those roles can be the hardest thing for a coach. We will learn a lot about the heart of the Bulls in the coming weeks. As the basketball world sells all of it’s stock in the Bulls it will be interesting to see how they respond to this challenge.
If this year has taught us anything it taught us that players, when given the opportunity to shine they rise to the occasion. Last year it was JJ Barea shocking the basketball world taking over games being one of the smallest players in the NBA. This year Jeremy Lin took the basketball world by storm by starting the year being a bench player to carrying an NBA franchise on his back. Barea and Lin didn’t listen to the people who doubted their ability. Last year the Dallas Mavericks had limited supporters who thought they had a chance at getting out of the second round never mind being an NBA champion. You can’t measure a team’s heart and unity by looking at statistics alone. When there is a culture installed and everyone from top to bottom buys into it any goal can be attained. There is nothing stopping CJ Watson to step up as a hero or John Lucas to be that firecracker the Bulls need to be successful.
Adversity shows us a lot about character. For the Chicago Bulls it will show us how they step up when their leader is lost. I have a feeling that for those who sold their stock in them when they were down will be wishing that hadn’t.