Experiencing a night of the Bulls’ dynasty through a five-year-old’s eyes

Experiencing a night of the Bulls’ dynasty through a five-year-old’s eyes

Though I covered countless Bulls practices and games during my eight years at WLS-TV, I can’t really say I knew Michael Jordan all that well.

I had a few opportunities to talk with him outside of the mass interview clusters featured heavily in “The Last Dance,” and generally found him to be friendly and engaging. He would look you in the eye and seemed comfortable discussing anything going on in the world of sports or entertainment. We’ve seen Jordan’s harsh side captured during the documentary, but he also had a genuine warmth that came through in one-on-one conversations.

I remember being in Sarasota, Fla. covering White Sox spring training back in Jordan’s baseball days when news broke of a trade sending Stacey King to Minnesota for Luc Longley. We sat in front of his locker for a few minutes talking about what was going on in the NBA, and I got the feeling Jordan hadn’t closed the door on a basketball comeback.

Fast forward to the spring of 1998, when it seemed pretty obvious to everyone that this would be the final season of the Bulls dynasty led by Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. Getting tickets to a Bulls’ home game that season was incredibly difficult, but I wanted to make sure I had a chance to take my five-year-old son Eric to the United Center before the team was broken up. Fortunately, we got that chance, securing tickets to an early-April game against the Wizards.

For a five-year-old who was just starting to understand the role sports played in his father’s life, the chance to see Michael Jordan and the other Bulls players was incredibly exciting, and my wife made sure Eric had his mini Bulls warmup suit ready to go.

On the drive in from our home in the Western suburbs, I was going through a mental debate about whether I would try to find a way to have Eric meet the world’s most famous athlete. Jordan usually arrived in the player’s parking lot between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m., with photographers from all the local TV stations waiting to capture his walk down the tunnel to the Bulls’ locker room. Most of the time Jordan would give a few brief answers to questions about that night’s game as the cameramen, walking backwards, tried to avoid tripping over all the cables.

Unfortunately, the inbound Eisenhower was especially bad that night, and as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the dreaded “Hillside strangler” merging area, I figured the chance to have Eric see Jordan on his way into the arena was lost.

Upon arriving at the arena a little after 5:30 p.m., I quickly took Eric downstairs to see if we might be able to get a couple pictures for him to enjoy when he got older. The first person we ran into was the always affable Steve Kerr, who greeted us with a big smile, and welcomed Eric to his first Bulls game.

From there, we headed down the hallway to the area where Jordan entered the arena, and discovered MJ hadn’t arrived yet. Within a matter of minutes, here comes Michael, flanked by his personal security detail. 

Jordan spotted me holding my quite nervous five-year-old child, shook my hand and gladly offered to take a photo with us. I handed my camera to a media colleague, took the photo, thanked Michael, and just like that, we had a memory to last a lifetime.

The rest of the night went by quickly as Eric took in the incredible Bulls’ game night experience. We were able to get photos with Bill Wennington, Jud Buechler and Benny the Bull, and Eric got a chance to watch some of the world’s greatest athletes warm up while standing on the court that he had only previously seen on television.

The Bulls won the game (of course), and the ride back to the suburbs was filled with a very tired five-year-old’s excited stories about a perfect night watching his sports heroes. My biggest concern was whether the photo with Jordan would turn out okay, and thankfully, WGN’s Randy Salerno did a great job, as I found out when I anxiously picked up the prints the next day. (Yes, the process was a little more complicated back then!)

Of course, this was just a run-of-the-mill regular season game, one of 82, but it’s a night that Eric and I will always remember.

Those photos proudly hang in our basement, right next to the big screen monitor I used to watch games almost every night. 

One day that framed photo board will hang proudly in Eric’s home as he tells his children about the night he met the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan.

Through May 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing every 1998 Chicago Bulls NBA Playoff game (21 total). Find the full schedule here.

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.


Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:


Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:


All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:


“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.


Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.

How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play