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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the hardest working beat writers in town who covers one of the best, if not THE best team in the NBA: the 2011-12 Chicago BullsBulls fans are hoping this guy keeps covering games for the next two months as the Bulls strive to bring the city its first NBA title since the Jordan erawhat are we waiting for, its playoff time for crying out loud!...get ready for 5 Questions withNEIL HAYES!

BIO: Neil Hayes returned to his native state in 2006 after spending 15 years covering the San Francisco Bay Area sports scene. Since being hired at the Sun-Times, he has covered Northwestern football, Notre Dame football, the Bears & Bulls, while also producing features and columns on other local and national sports stories. He is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Footballs Longest Winning Streak. His book inspired the ESPN documentary, 151: The Greatest Streak, which he also wrote. Hayes is also the co-author of The Last Putt: Two Teams, Two Dreams and a Freshman named Tiger. In 2005, he was named one of the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

The Northern Arizona University and Rochelle Township High School graduate grew up in a home where Bears Sundays were sacred. He also spent countless summer nights trying to make out shadowy White Sox players in what appeared to be a snowstorm on UHF Channel 44.

1) CSNChicago.com: Neil, with NBA Playoff time upon us once again, the thrilling prospect of another NBA championship returning to Chicago is on everyones mind, especially within the legions of die-hard Bulls fans in our city and around the globe. Optimism runs high among fans this time of year, especially with the teams solid starting line-up and very deep bench. Simple question: should we be optimistic about them winning it all this year? Your thoughts.

Hayes: After what this franchise has been through since Michael Jordan retired, youd be crazy not to. The Bulls, Heat, Spurs and Thunder are all championship contenders in my mind with the Celtics, Lakers and Pacers being potential dark horses. The Bulls are going to need some sort of advantage to get past the Heat, whether it be a Heat player being slowed by poor performance or injury or some lights-out shooting by Kyle Korver andor Rip Hamilton, but it can definitely be done. Derrick Roses health is the key, obviously, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will have to step up as well. Coach Tom Thibodeau also needs to find a way to use his bench as effectively in the postseason, when rotations are shortened, as he has during the regular season.

2) CSNChicago.com: If the stars align and both teams advance through the first two rounds as they are expected to, an Eastern Conference Finals re-match against LeBron & Co. seems very likely to occur once again. What are your top 3 on-court key elements that the Bulls need to accomplish to get past the Heat this year?

Hayes: They are going to have to match the Heats physicality. That was an issue in the regular-season finale between these two teams, when the Bulls were bullied by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Assuming Rose is healthy, they will also need Carlos Boozer to win his matchup with Chris Bosh, not only when it comes to scoring, but rebounding as well.

The Bulls ability to dominate the boards is a great equalizer, and they were out-rebounded in the last game in Miami.

Finally, they are going to need the Bench Mob to really step up and make a difference, by which I mean make some shots. It may be Taj Gibson, who can make an impact on both ends of the court, or perhaps Korver, as I mentioned earlier, or even John Lucas III hitting some timely threes. Omer Asik was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Many inside the Bulls organization believe not having Asik to defend the rim when Noah was on the bench was a huge factor in that series.

3) CSNChicago.com: As youve naturally already read, GQ recently published an interview with Bulls superstar Derrick Rose. In that interview, Rose stated hes still not used to the limelight and all the well-deserved attention he receives on a daily basis. He also discussed how Michael Jordans six titles with the Bulls drives him and makes him work even harder. In your opinion, is it even fair to put that kind of pressure on D-Rose at this early point in his career to compare him to MJ?

Hayes: I dont think anybody puts that pressure on Derrick. He puts it on himself. Hes a very driven individual and that drive is largely responsible for where he is today. It defines who he is. As far as handling fame, Derrick is one of the most unique athletes Ive ever covered. Ive never meet anybody -- inside or outside of sports -- who is as genuinely humble and sincere. Thats why the story about him going to management and asking them to trade Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol earlier this season didnt make sense to me. If you know Derrick, even a little bit, you know hes not capable of that type of manipulation. Hes just not wired that way. Hes an introvert in a very extroverted world. He will grow more accustomed how he will have to live his life, but he will never be comfortable being the center of attention anywhere other than a basketball court.

4) CSNChicago.com: As someone who has interviewed countless pro athletes in the NBA, NFL and many other sports over the years, whos been your favorite athlete to interview and why?

Hayes: Interesting question. I used to have great conversations with ex-49ers quarterback Steve Young. He was the most down-to-earth superstar Ive been around. He was one of the highest paid athletes in sports and was living in a loft he was remodeling himself. He even changed his own oil. I remember a long conversation with him about handling fame. He said, Fame is an elaborate hoax the world plays on you. He went on to say if an athlete wants to get noticed, hell wear the most expensive clothes, sunglasses and be ushered into private dining rooms with his entourage. He found the best way to go unnoticed was to put his name on the restaurant's waiting list, sit down and wait like everybody else. I thought that was a refreshing perspective.

As far as Chicago guys, Paul Konerko is everything you think he is. Hes as thoughtful and humble as it gets. his Bulls teams might be the best collection of athletes in one locker room Ive ever worked with, and that extends to general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson. What they say about hockey players is true, too. Most come from blue-collar backgrounds and are amazingly level-headed and easy to deal with. For the most part, they dont worry about spinning things. They are the most accountable group of athletes youll ever be around.

5) CSNChicago.com: Lastly, and this one is hard-hitting Neil so get ready: tell us your favorite basketball-themed movie(s) of all-time. Interviewers note: TVs The White Shadow is an acceptable answer.

Hayes: I loved "The White Shadow" as a kid. I never missed an episode. Ironically enough, Thomas Carter, who played James Hollywood Hayward during the three-year series run, is now a Hollywood director who has signed on to direct a movie based on my first book, When the Game Stands Tall. I havent yet had a chance to pick his brain about his days on the set of "The White Shadow," but I will. Im also a sucker for "Hoosiers." Its not only a great basketball movie, but one of the great sports movies of all time. Hoop Dreams was also excellent.

Hayes LINKS

Chicago Sun-Times Sports official home page

Neil Hayes on Facebook

Neil Hayes on Twitter

Cubs not working on Anthony Rizzo contract extension this winter

Cubs not working on Anthony Rizzo contract extension this winter

For all the talks of possible contract extensions involving Cubs this offseason, first baseman Anthony Rizzo's name has been mentioned less than other core players.

Well, that's because the Cubs haven't approached Rizzo with an extension, according to ESPN's Jesse Rogers

"The Cubs have informed us that they will not be offering Anthony an extension at this time," Marc Pollack, Rizzo's agent, told Rogers.

Rizzo was seen as a logical candidate to get a new deal this winter. He's the face of the franchise and one of the team's most valuable players on the field and in the clubhouse. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer didn't comment on specifics, but he said Tuesday the organization is having extension talks with current players.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Hoyer said at the Winter Meetings. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

If Rizzo isn't part of those discussions, shortstop Javier Báez is left as the most likely Cub to get extended this offseason. Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras have been involved in incessant trade rumors, and according to Rogers, the Cubs haven't approached Kyle Schwarber with a new contract, to this point.

Rizzo is signed through 2020 and the Cubs have a team option on him for 2021 worth $16.5 million. But the Cubs will likely go into next season not knowing if Rizzo will be around after 2021, complicating the long-term picture of the franchise.

Pollack added that Rizzo is open to being a Cub for life, for what it's worth. 

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Mercy! Hawk Harrelson wins Ford Frick Award and joins the Hall of Fame

Mercy! Hawk Harrelson wins Ford Frick Award and joins the Hall of Fame

SAN DIEGO -- The Hawk is in the Hall.

Legendary White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson was announced as the winner of the Ford Frick Award on Wednesday, sending one of the most colorful characters in baseball history to Cooperstown forever.

Harrelson spent decades behind the mic for the White Sox, never leaving any doubt over how much passion he had for the South Siders. His love for the White Sox and the game in general shone through with every word he uttered, with so many of those words becoming part of baseball’s lexicon.

Be it iconic catchphrases like “You can put it on the board, yes!” and “He gone!” or memorable moments such as “You gotta be bleepin’ me!” and “Under the circumstances, that was the best catch I have ever seen!” everyone in Chicago has a favorite Hawk call. For multiple generations of fans, he was as closely associated with the franchise as anyone.

The Ford Frick Award honors excellence in broadcasting, and while his detractors might label him too much of a homer, there was never an attempt to mask that fact. Hawk’s broadcasts were for White Sox fans, and he accomplished what few broadcasters can claim to accomplish today: Watching his games was like watching the game at the bar, with fellow fans getting all riled up over every play.

There’s a great line from a baseball film that goes, “Baseball’s a game; games are supposed to be fun.” Hawk made games just that: fun. Whether he was going crazy over a White Sox win, his voice cracking while proclaiming that “our kids just will not quit,” or he was seething in anger, decrying one of the men in blue as “a disgrace to the umpiring profession,” he provided a level of entertainment that made games more enjoyable.

For many, being a White Sox fan includes adopting “Hawkisms” -- be they greatest hits or deep cuts -- as part of your daily routine. “Don’t stop now, boys” and “we need help” can be equally enjoyable rallying cries. And they all stem from the Hawk. He’s not just a man. He’s a language all his own.

That’s a Hall-of-Fame impact.

And now he’s been rewarded with this honor, a place in Cooperstown among the greats. For this writer, “deserving” to be a part of the Hall of Fame means being such an integral part of the game that you cannot tell the story of baseball without the person in question. You cannot tell the story of the game without slipping into a Hawk impression. You wouldn’t want to. It’s simply too much fun.

Mercy.

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