There is talk that the NBA might be looking at another lockout in 2005-06, but hopefully they will learn from the mistakes of the NHL and find a common ground. I say this not only for all of the reasons I stated earlier about the NHL, but also because the Bulls are finally on their way back to the playoffs after six long painful seasons. Going into the All-Star break this year, our record stood at 26-23, three wins more than we had all of last season. Scott Skiles has found a way to mold this team into a hard working group, and not only am I absolutely confident in the Bulls making the playoffs, but I really think that we can do some damage in the East.
Today begins the second half of the season, and it starts with the best team the Eastern Conference has to offer: the Miami Heat, led by Shaq and Chicago-product Dwyane Wade. Meghan and I are in Austin, Texas right now visiting my camp buddy Bubba as we slowly make our way towards Mesa for a pair of Cubs spring training games, and being out of the Chicago-land area is starting to take its effect on me. We bought tickets for a 7:00 PM showing of Million Dollar Baby tonight without remembering that the Bulls-Heat game started at 7:30. O’well. These things happen. I found out that the game was today when my brother called me a half hour before tip. Mankameyer does a lot of online betting, and wanted my opinion. I talked to MJ for a bit before getting on with Mank.
“So Jack, what do you think? The over-under is 199 and the line is Miami by four and a half.”
“Four and a half?” I think for a second. “Well, the Bulls aren’t going to lose a close game, so only take the points if you think the Bulls will win.” Gambling on your team is always difficult—it’s a clash between head and heart, love and money—and even tougher when you’re helping someone else gamble because they see you as an authority on your team. That’s a big responsibility. “I know the Bulls can win, but also, this is the first game after the break. Shaq’s gonna be all charged up for a big game…”
“Yeah. I know.”
“I would say…ooh, this is tough…You know what? I would say take the Heat and lay the four and a half. They won’t blow us out, but they might wear us down in the fourth with Shaquille and Wade…I’m having trouble here Mank. You know, it’s tough to pick against your own team…”
“Yeah, I feel you on that.”
“…and I know we can beat the Heat.”
“Yeah…” Man this is hard. “I guess you should take the Heat. That’s probably what I would do if I were an unbiased gambler. If I weren’t a Bulls fan I probably wouldn’t be having this much trouble with it.” I pause again, thinking. “I’m rooting for the Bulls, obviously–”
“–but go with the Heat minus four and a half…I suppose.”
“But if you lose I’m not going to be upset.”
“For sure. And the over-under?”
“You said it’s 199?”
“Take the under. The Bulls will play tough ‘D,’ so even if we have an off night and Shaq and Wade are hot, they won’t make it to 110, and the Bulls won’t lose a close game, which would put us in the 90’s. It’ll be close, but take the under.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too. Thanks Jack. You wanna talk to Mike?”
“No, we’re going into see this movie. Tell him I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“OK. Peace bro. Thanks a lot.”
We got out of the movie at around 9:30, and I promised to call my mom as soon as I saw it, as she had seen it and thought it was the year’s best picture. Mom and I have this thing about the Oscars…we try to see as many big Oscar movies as we can, and we’re very big on movie-talk. So I called my parents as soon as we got out of the theater, hoping to talk about the film with Mom and get a score update from Dad.
Dad picks up first.
“Hey Jack! How’s it going?”
“Great. We just saw Million Dollar Baby.”
“Oh. Whadyou think? Wasn’t it terrific?”
“It was awesome. What’s up with the Bulls?”
“Down seven with under four minutes to go.”
“Yeah. Shaq went down two minutes into the game with an ankle injury.”
“Oh man! That sucks! Is he OK?” I never pull for a guy to get injured, but I have a particular affinity towards Shaq.
“Well, he was helped off the floor.”
“He’s not out for the year, or anything, is he?”
“They haven’t said.”
“Man, I hope he’s alright.” And then… “Has Curry been doing well with Shaq out?”
“He’s scoring alright, but Skiles had been playing Tyson a lot more for his defense and rebounding.”
“Obviously. Who’s been hot for us?”
“No one, really. We’ve been shooting around 38 or 39 percent.”
“Miami hasn’t been doing much better though. That’s why we’ve hung around. You wanna talk to Mom about the movie?”
“OK. Hold on.”
Mom picks up the phone upstairs.
“Where are you now?”
“Oh fun. So, talking to Dad about the Bulls game?”
“What’s the score?”
“You’re not watching? Come on, Mom.”
“I’m sorry. I’m doing work.”
“Yeah but come on. It’s the Bulls.” I give in. “OK,” I say, sighing, “that’s OK. Anyhow, we’re down six. Not looking good.” I change gears. “So, we just got out of Million Dollar Baby.”
“Oh my. What did you think?”
“Yeah. It was…yeah. I mean…yeah.”
“Wasn’t it great? When we left, there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.”
“Were you crying at all?” my Mom asks innocently.
“That’s really not important.”
“YES!” Meghan’s been listening, and making sure that I’m driving the right way. I look at her disapprovingly, and she’s glowing. “He was totally crying!”
“Meg. Come on.”
“Did Meghan say you were crying?”
“Let’s move on.”
“Oh, come on. What did she say?”
“Nothing!” I shout. “Move on.”
She moves on. “So, Best Picture?”
“Absolutely. The Aviator was great and all, but I’m not going to think of it when I think Scorsese. It’s certainly not in the league with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas…on the other hand, when people think Clint Eastwood, Director, they are going to think of this movie.”
“I totally agree. I thought he was great. And she was great, too. And Morgan Freeman was great.”
“They all were. Freeman was terrific, and Hilary Swank was really good, and Clint was good. But Freeman was the best.”
“Best Supporting Actor for sure. I told you he was great.”
“You were right, Mom. I mean, he was incredible throughout the whole flick, but I wouldn’t’ve given it to him for sure until that last line. The way he delivers the last line, it really makes the movie.”
“You’re right. What did you think about…”
My dad picks up the phone downstairs.
“Sorry to interrupt, but the Bulls are up two.”
“OH HELL YES!” I slap the steering wheel in celebration. “HELL YES! Alright! OK! What happened?”
“Gordon hit three threes. He’s really gotten hot here.”
“Man! Ben Gordon is just lights out in the fourth. OK, what’s going on? One sec Mom.”
“OK, what’s the score?”
“92-90. Heat had the ball, and they missed a shot, and Gordon got the rebound, so now it’s Bulls ball. They’re coming out of a timeout.”
“Mom, you still there?”
“OK. Go ahead, Dad.”
“Uh, OK here we go. Bulls, moving it around…Hirnich…Duhon…down low…”
“Come on Bulls. Come on Bulls.”
“Back up top…they kick it over to Hinrich, he shoots…BLOCKED! Miami blocked the shot, and they’ve got it with 3.6 on the clock. Timeout Heat.”
“Oh come on Bulls!”
“You wanna talk to Mom?”
“Is it a commercial?”
It’s really frustrating watching a game like this, and even more frustrating not watching a game like this, if you know what I mean. “Yeah that’s fine. Hey Mom,” I say, nearly out of breath.
“Close game huh?”
“What was I about to say before Dad picked up?”
“Um, we were talking about the acting, and–”
“Oh, I remember. The script. Wasn’t it a great script? Really subtle, but still really powerful, and great dialogue…”
“It was perfect. It was storytelling at its best. It really was. It was everything they teach you to do as a writer. Everything that came next was a surprise, but once you got there it was obviously the perfect decision, and exactly what was supposed to happen.”
“I know. That’s what I would say. Perfect. It was just a perfect…”
Pop pops on. “We’re back. Jack, you ready?
“Oooh yeah. Lay it on me.”
“OK. 3.6 to go. Bulls up two. Miami has the ball.”
“Heat throw it in…Jones shoots…HE MISSED!…Oh no!”
“Are they gonna count it? I think it came after the buzzer. Let’s see.”
“Count what?” I’m going mad.
“Somebody on the Heat tipped in the miss.”
“It didn’t even hit the backboard. He just grabbed the airball and tossed it back up.”
“Yup. They’re counting it. We’re going to overtime. I’ll let you talk to Mom. Here she is.”
“OK. But can you come back when there’s like two minutes left or something?”
“Sweet. Mom, you there?”
“One sec, OK?”
The sign on the left says to exit for 35th Street, with 45th Street coming up next. Meghan looks at me.
“Bubba doesn’t live this way,” she says.
“Aren’t we looking for 5th Street?”
“Yeah.” My focus is locked up in two intense areas: finding out about a Bulls game that is now in overtime and a film conversation with my mom on a movie that had me crying, laughing, and smiling all at once as the screen faded to black. My concern over our directions is minimal, and I state rather matter-of-factly: “We went the wrong way.”
“Just get off here. We can catch Lamar and take that back the other way to 5th.”
“Great. So, Mom…” and right back into it we go, talking about the Best Actress race between Swank, Annette Benning, and the woman from Vera Drake, and talking about how Eastwood also did the music for this movie, and talking about the similarities between Eastwood’s characters in this and Unforgiven, and before I know it we’re on 5th street, pulling into the parking garage. And just as I’m pulling out the little swipy-card thing that Bubba gave us so that we can get into the garage for free…
“OK, two minutes left in overtime…Bulls are up 100-92…Gordon has hit three, no, two threes here and the Bulls are up.”
“OH HELL YES! HELL YES!…what?…no, we’ve got this thing.” I hand the swipy-card to the attendant who swipes it in front of the machine and waves us under the gate. “Thank you. What?” I ask Dad. “No, not you. Sorry, we had to go in the garage.”
“No problem.” He continues. “Alright, Miami bringing it up. They look a bit hurried. It looks like they’re trying to work it to Wade. Bulls are D-ing up. Heat swing it around. Anderson jumper…missed. Captain Kirk with the rebound. Bulls setting it up. Deng, back to Kirk, back to Deng…what’s this?”
“Yuck. Offensive on Chandler. Miami ball.”
“Bubba said to park between floors five and six,” Meghan says.
“OK. Sorry Dad, Meghan was telling me…OH YES! OK…” My head is spinning. “Meghan, I need you to drive.” And then before she can answer: “OK, nevermind, I can do it. OK, Dad, sorry…”
“OK. Second Deng free throw is good. Bulls up four now, Heat coming down…”
…and he tells me about a steal from Gordon and a free throw from Gordon, and Meg and I park and get up into Bubba’s apartment, and my dad tells me about a Damon Jones triple to pull the Heat to two, and Duhon twice splitting a pair to put the Bulls up four, and me pacing in a corner of the kitchen as Meg and Bubba watch me, and he tells me about Wade missing a jumper, and finally, the Bulls pulling out the ‘W.’
“YES! YES! OK,” I say. Alright. Way to start the second half.”
“OK Dad, thanks a lot, but we’re at Bubba’s place now and I don’t want to be rude.”
“Sure. Talk to you tomorrow. Bye Jack.”
“Good night sweetie.”
“Night Mom. Night Dad.”
I hang up, sit down, and breathe. Meghan and Bubba are staring at me, and I high-five both of them for the Bulls victory. Bubba laughs, Meghan smiles and shakes her head.
“So,” I say, looking at them, “what are we doing tonight?”