Bulls

Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Friday, March 4, 2011
10:12 a.m.
By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Theres a lot going on in the world of sports right now, but one thing was mostly on my mind this week. On Tuesday (3-1-11) we celebrated the life of Harry Caray (and Ron Santo) with the 13th annual world-wide toast in his honor. For me, it was actually number 14. Coming into work on the 18th of February 1998, I already knew that Harry was in the hospital in California and the prospects were not good, still, when you receive the news, its a jolt. Not only that. I was told that I was to stand on top of the bar, and lead everyone in a toast in his honor at 7:30. It was one of those out-of body experiences: Cameras everywhere, and a room thick with emotion. Everyone raised their glasses and then there was nothing but silence until the bagpipers started playing Amazing Grace, after which you could hear the sniffling and see most in the room wiping their eyes. Death is never easy to deal with, ever. The family was great in saying that we should not be sad, Harry wouldnt want that, and that we should celebrate the long, remarkable life that he lived. For thirteen years now, weve been doing that every day.

Having a celebrity name on a restaurant means that youre going to have to answer questions about that person every ten minutes. When Harry was alive, most of the time it was pretty easy. Yes. Hes in the dining room right now! People would light-up like Christmas trees when they found that out. Unlike another downtown eatery that had an iconic name on it, that was pretty cool.

People always ask my favorite story, but I dont really have one in particular. What I like to tell them about is the vibe that he created. As a bartender, Im a natural observer of human behavior. There are two things in particular: How people act, and, how do they treat others? Those things have a huge influence on my job and surroundings. Harry was off-the-charts positive in both. To see the affect he had on others was amazing to watch. It was so easy and effortless you wonder why everyone couldnt do it. But that was his genius. He did not have to try, it was who he was. He had a showmans impeccable timing when he came into the bar, never staying for too little or too long, the whole room beaming when he left.

So now, the questions, and stories, have been in the past tense for quite a while. For me behind the bar, they never get old. In many ways, being a guy from Philly, I didnt quite know what I was getting into when I walked in the doors for a job back in95. It was an exciting and dynamic place to walk into, so who wouldnt want to work there? Especially, if you were a baseball nut like myself and seeing Hall-of-Famers every day.

The Cubs fan pilgrimage thing was in full force then, they all had to come to 33 W. Kinzie. I always teased, calling the restaurant the Cubs fans Graceland. (I always love hearing Harrys story about meeting Elvis and imagining what that night was like. I mean, honestly, those two together? The mind boggles!) Those experiences changed, obviously, after his passing. People coming in would share the most touching stories with me. Mostly theyre of baseball, their family and Harry. For a lot of us, baseball is the soundtrack of the summer, and if it was Harrys voice you were hearing, that soundtrack resulted in more shared smiles and laughs than you can count. Its hard to imagine, just by being himself, someone who created more good will.

As I go to work now, Im reminded of that almost daily. Oh, sure, I once in a while get the Whos Harry? question. Time moves on and those darn drinkers keep getting younger! But I never get tired of sharing his story with a new generation for them to enjoy. The longer Im behind the bar the more I realize how important that is. Its as though those of us that work in his namesake restaurants are in charge of caretaking his legacy. And if it cant be in a ballpark, where better than in an environment where people can eat, drink, laugh and share good times. I dont think he would have it any other way.

So as I think of Harry, he reminds me of others that I have known who have passed. Even though they are gone, its still possible for them to live on in our hearts and thoughts, and still bring a smile to our face every day. Who wouldnt raise a glass to that? Heres to you, Harry!

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.