May 6, 2005: A Thank You Note
The season is over.
The Bulls have just lost Game 6, 94-91, and I am strapped with an incredible feeling of loss. No second round series with Miami. No Game 7 at home. After leading for most of the game and playing the kind of basketball that helped us earn the fourth seed in the East, the kind of basketball that had evaded us during Games 3, 4, and 5, the Bulls fell apart in the final two minutes and dropped a heartbreaker to the Wizards.
I watched the game at my house, alone. My parents were having dinner at the O’Haras’, and though they invited me to come along, I didn’t really feel like it. I also had an offer to watch the game at Ben’s dorm in Lake Forest, but I didn’t feel like making the half hour drive up there. So I watched it at home, on my couch, on my TV, and that was fine. I decided to tape the game, so that just in case we lost
I’d have a tape of this Bulls team, but as the game got underway things were pointing to a Game 7. The Bulls came out hot and got off to a nice lead, and though Washington was able to tie it up it was clear that we were playing our brand of ball. We were playing great defense, getting into the passing lanes and challenging shots, we were beating them on the glass, and we were hustling to loose balls. We led by three after one, by two at the half, and by six going into the fourth quarter. We were playing Chicago Bulls basketball.
But Washington wasn’t going away, and they stayed close enough throughout so that I was never able to get too comfortable, even though it felt all the way like it was our game. We were ahead, we were ahead, and then as I realized that we weren’t going to pull away and make it an easy win, it dawned on me that this might be the last
chance I would get to watch this Bulls team play. Suddenly, things were more serious, and I focused in completely, not because the team needed my total concentration, but because I needed the team. I still felt like we were on our way to Game 7, but just in case…
Then the wheels came off. As Kirk went for what looked to be an easy layup, Arenas made an impossibly athletic clean block from behind, knocking the ball off the backboard and sending Hinrich to the floor. Washington gained possession, and Larry Hughes’ layup cut the Bulls lead to two. Jamison stole the ball from Hinrich on the Bulls’ next trip down, and then hit a long deuce on the other end to tie the game at 91. The teams traded missed shots and the Wizards missed a couple of free throws, but all the while it was the Bulls who looked frantic, and after a game filled with smart play and smart decisions, things fell apart. As Kirk prepared to inbound the ball to a streaking Chris Duhon, Du looked away and Kirk threw it in, bouncing the ball off of Duhon’s back. Jared Jeffries scooped up the loose ball and charged down the floor for an easy dunk. Then, down two, Pargo missed a quick three, and Juan Dixon grabbed the rebound and went to the line on a Hinrich foul. Dixon hit one of two, and suddenly the game had turned all the way around. Panic set in; this was the end.
The Bulls came down, Noce missed a three, and then in a final sequence that typified the Bulls’ late-game collapse, Tyson rebounded the miss with four seconds to go and shot up a two instead of kicking out for a potential game-tying three. The ball fell into the arms of Arenas, who tossed it into the crowd as time expired. Wizards 94, Bulls 91. Game over.
In a way, these details are all inconsequential. This isn’t like Illinois losing to North Carolina, where they had a chance to win a championship. I didn’t expect the Bulls to get out of the second round, and I’m not that upset that we lost to the Wizards. Washington is a very good team, and they played great basketball for four straight games. It would’ve been great to see this team advance to the second round, but losing in the first in no way detracts from what we did all year. This season is still a huge success, any way you cut it.
No, the loss that I feel right now, that I feel throughout my body, is from knowing that there are no more games to be played for the 2004-2005 Chicago Bulls. That’s what sucks the most. I’d love it if we could go out and play Miami, but really I’d just love it if we could go out and play tomorrow. Any time. Any gym. Any opponent. They can scrimmage against the Charlotte Bobcats for all I care. I just want to see them play again.
I want to see Captain Kirk, all floppy haired and sleepy eyed, pulling up for three on a fast break and igniting the United Center crowd. I want to see Tyson, long and slender and full of ferocity, extending his seven foot frame as far as it can reach as he stretches for a rebound and roars after a blocked shot and celebrates with the front row fans after another exciting Bulls win. I want to see Ben Gordon, knifing through defenders and lofting up floaters that look like they’ll kiss the Jumbotron before they dance sweetly through the net, changing the way we think about the fourth quarter. I want to see Chris Duuuuuuuuhon in his defensive squat, arms
out and eyes on his man, ready to swat away a dribble and lead a fast break. I want to see Noce, barking and yelling at teammates and opponents, diving for loose balls and exploding into the lane for a game-changing dunk. I want to see Eddy, lumbering down the court before catching a ball in the post, and in one motion turning and slamming it down so hard that the defenders know next time to just get out of his way. I want to see Luol, a man with limbs from here to the Pacific, rushing in front of passing lanes and running the break and gracefully dropping in finger rolls that start from the foul line. I want to see A.D., the old man of the group, battling for rebounds and defending his guys and smiling as he realizes what a special group this is. I want to see Othella and Pike and Griffin and Pargo waving towels from the bench, not caring if they get in, but knowing that when they do they’ll get the team going with a rebound or a box out or a pull up jumper or a spot up three. And I want to see Coach Skiles working the sideline, keeping the guys focused but loose, because they know what he wants and he knows that they’ll come through for him when he calls their number.
One of the big advantages of professional sports is that teams get to grow up together and play together and win together for more than four years. Win or lose against North Carolina, the 2005-06 Illini were sure to be a very different team than the 2004-05 Illini. That team will always be remembered, will always be special, due in part to the fact that fans knew that their time with that team was limited. Pro sports are different. This Bulls team will improve, and they will be back, and come November we’ll all be ready for the next step. We’ll come out of the gate determined and prepared, maybe have an All-Star or two, grow stronger as a team and as individuals and have another exciting playoff run. We’ll get to a point where the playoffs aren’t the goal, but the expectation, and we’ll go to a conference championship where we have to prove all over again that we belong with the best, and maybe, just maybe, a trip to the NBA Finals, where we can all laugh and cheer
and talk about what a ride it’s been and how sweet it is to be here after all these years. But we’ll never have this year again, this 2004-2005 season. We’ll never again have this exact group of guys, never again be the regular season Cinderella story, never again go from 0-9 to the postseason, never again see the expectations change so dramatically that a loss in Game 6 of the first round would be deemed a disappointment in a season that began with fans hoping only for thirty wins.
So the season is over, and while the playoffs continue and the Bulls get ready for the summer, I say thank you. Thank you for never quitting, no matter what hole you were in, be it down 27 in the opener to New Jersey or languishing at 0-9 and 4-15 or losing your leading scorer down the stretch or trailing by 22 in Game 5. Thank you for back-to-back wins against the Knicks, for giving us that special feeling all over again, for showing us what a proud basketball team looks like. Thank you for winning with defense and hustle and heart and emotion, not to mention skill and speed and athleticism. Thank you John Paxson, for having the vision and courage to put together a team that played the way you thought the game should be played, for choosing passion over potential and finding players that we could be proud of. Thank you Scott Skiles,
for coming into a tough situation and showing that hard work and commitment can be just as rewarding as contracts and highlights. Thank you Chicago Bulls, our 2004-2005 Chicago Bulls, for giving us reason to cheer and a season to cherish. Thank you.
FOR MORE ON THE 2005 BULLS…
The Bulls beat the Sixers…their first big win
The Bulls beat the Heat…a big win following the All-Star break
Word arrives that Ben Gordon is now being called “Heir Gordon”
The Bulls get national attention as ESPN.com’s 8th best team
The Bulls beat the Raptors…and make the playoffs!
And, because you deserve it:
The remarkable back-to-back home-and-home against the Knicks, starting with the Noce block-Chandler save-Curry dunk AND Chandler GW block and crowd celebration on January 15th at the United Center…
…and followed two days later by Ben Gordon’s GW baseline floater on MLK Day at Madison Square Garden.
***MAY 4, 2012 UPDATE***
GREAT STORY from Jonathan Abrams at Grantland.com on Tyson & Eddy, ten years later.