Scottie Pippen

Should any of Bulls’ titles from dynasty years come with an asterisk?

Should any of Bulls’ titles from dynasty years come with an asterisk?

The short answer is: no.

But NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh pontificated about the very nature of placing asterisks on NBA champions in his most recent column. In the piece, he pegs reasons that every NBA champion could be argued as illegitimate, in light of recent discourse around how the winner that emerges from the NBA’s Disney bubble will be perceived. (It’s all, of course, in good fun.)

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But because we’re still a tad touchy about even sarcastic Bulls slander, here’s a rundown of the dynasty-era teams’ inclusions in Haberstroh’s article, with rebuttals attached:

1998 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls def. Utah Jazz 4-2

Haberstroh: “MJ pushed off.”

Rebuttal: “Everybody says I pushed off — bulls**t. His (Bryon Russell) energy was going that way I didn’t have to push him that way.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 10 of “The Last Dance” 

“Russell was already stumbling away. That hand on his backside was the equivalent of maître d' showing someone to their table.” — Bob Costas, Ep. 10

That’s all I need to hear.

1997 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls def. Utah Jazz 4-2

Haberstroh: “Voters got bored and gave Karl Malone the MVP and thereby gave life to Michael Jordan’s vengeful loins. Also, Scottie Pippen grabbed the rim. Tarnished title.”

Rebuttal: If we learned anything from “The Last Dance,” it’s that Jordan was going to find unnatural motivation no matter what. Maybe the Bryon Russell revenge comes a year early; maybe he feigns a tale of Greg Ostertang cutting him in line at Jewel. I don’t know.

And, yes, Scottie clearly gripped the rim amid a decisive play in the decisive Game 6 of the series, causing — yikes — basically the entire stanchion to shake. Goaltending should have been called. But that layup came off the backboard like a cinderblock and Shandon Anderson had missed everything on a wide open reverse four-and-a-half minutes earlier! Roll the (entire) tape!

 

Moreover, what evidence do we have today that suggests Utah was going to hold on to a two-point lead with roughly 28 seconds to play at the United Center in Game 6 of an NBA Finals? Very little, in my estimation.

1996 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls def. Seattle Super Sonics 4-2

Haberstroh: “Adding the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies this season diluted the overall talent pool for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to feast on. But the real reason for this asterisk is two-time All-Defense member Nate McMillan’s back. If it doesn’t turn to mush, this is Sonics in six, not the Bulls. The franchise isn’t the only thing stolen from Seattle.” 

Rebuttal: No disrespect at all intended here, but you can’t convince me the subtractions of Rodney Dent (Magic), Greg Anthony (Knicks), Dontonio Winfield (Super Sonics), Blue Edwards (Jazz) or anyone else plucked in the 1995 expansion draft drastically swung title fates in 1996 — even if a diluted talent pool did help the Bulls stack 72 regular season wins. And as for McMillan: the Bulls led that Finals 3-0 at one point, lest we forget, and finished those playoffs 15-3. The final score was hardly as close as the actual competition.

1993 NBA Champions: Chicago Bulls def. Phoenix Suns 4-2

Haberstroh: “Voters got bored (again) and gave Charles Barkley the MVP and thereby gave life to MJ’s vengeful loins. Jordan inexplicably finished third in MVP that year. The real voter fraud that no one is talking about.”

Rebuttal: Jerry Krause liking Dan Majerle’s game was enough.

1992 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls def. Portland Trail Blazers 4-2

Haberstroh: “Arvydas Sabonis, arguably the best basketball player in the world not named Michael Jordan at the time, was in his prime playing for Real Madrid instead of the Blazers who had drafted him in 1986. If Sabas didn’t wait until 1995 to join the NBA, this is a very different 1992 Finals battle between the Blazers and Bulls. Call it the Arvydas Asterisk.”

Rebuttal: Alright, I actually might have to concede this one. Arvydas Sabonis slander — or anything that resembles it — will never be tolerated on these pages. 

1991 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls def. Los Angeles Lakers 4-1

Haberstroh: “Lakers’ top scorer James Worthy and top shooter Byron Scott both got hurt and couldn’t play the decisive Game 5 of the NBA Finals. What could have been?”

Rebuttal: By Game 5, the Bulls were coming off three consecutive victories by an average margin of 14.7 points with Worthy and Scott in the lineup. And Scott shot 27.8% from the field and 20% from 3-point range in those Finals. As our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area know, a 3-1 lead is the most dangerous lead in basketball, but color me skeptical on this one.

Credit where credit is due: Haberstroh did invoke Jordan in asterisk-ing the Rockets' titles in 1994 and 1995 (in '94, Haberstroh writes, Jordan was playing baseball; in '95, golf). Hard to argue there.

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6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

The seventh-inning stretch is a sacred tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray passionately performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every home game during his tenure as Cubs radio play-by-play man, previously doing so late in his tenure with the White Sox.

Caray died in 1998 and the Cubs have continued the tradition in his honor ever since, using a rotating cast of celebrities and former players as guest conductors. Last season, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster performed at the Friendly Confines.

Some renditions are more memorable than others, though not in an endearing way like Cookie Monster’s. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon sang 15 years ago Sunday, and not only did he refer to the ballpark as “Wrigley Stadium,” but also was off pace and didn’t really know the lyrics altogether.

Cubs fans showered Gordon with a chorus of boos, to which all he could do was chuckle and finish as fast as possible. 

Singing in front of 40,000 people isn’t easy, so it’s hard to be too tough on those whose appearances go awry. Nevertheless, guest singers know what they’re signing up for. On the anniversary of Gordon’s performance, here are five more of Wrigley’s worst in recent memory.

Mike Ditka — June 5, 1998

Well, Ditka certainly provided some energy. “Da Coach” didn’t take a breath in his 26-second blaring performance; perhaps he was winded from rushing up to the booth, to which he arrived a few moments late.

Ozzy Osbourne — Aug. 17, 2003

This isn’t a ranking of bad performances, but Osbourne sits atop the leaderboard anyhow. The Black Sabbath vocalist started off singing “Let’s go out to the ball game” before breaking into a mumble streak of made-up words. The look on Kerry Wood’s face summarizes things well.

Mr. T — May 25, 2009

It didn’t sound too good, but it sure was enthusiastic. Way to do your thing, Mr. T.

David Cross — Sept. 21, 2013

Hard to say what Cross, a stand-up comedian and actor, was going for here. He starred in three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films and, fittingly, screeched into the mic a couple of times. Maybe it was all in jest? He ended his rendition by saying, “That was awful. I’m so sorry.” 

Scottie Pippen — Oct. 22, 2016

Pippen performed the stretch in the biggest game in Cubs history (at that point) — the pennant-clincher in 2016. The Bulls Hall-of-Famer was on tune to start before mixing up lyrics, then passing the mic to the animated Wrigley crowd. 

We’ll give Pippen a slight pass here, considering he brought six championships to Chicago during his playing days.  

With that, I'll leave you with this:

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Sam Smith: ‘Nonsense’ that Horace Grant was only source for ‘Jordan Rules’

Sam Smith: ‘Nonsense’ that Horace Grant was only source for ‘Jordan Rules’

In Episode 6 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the intra-organizational strife evoked by the publishing of “The Jordan Rules” was detailed. 

Michael Jordan, in a present-day interview, blamed then-teammate Horace Grant for leaking inside-the-locker-room information to Sam Smith, who authored the book. Grant countered that he never “divulged” anything to Smith, despite the two sharing a friendship. The documentary doesn’t get past the point of “he said, he said” on the matter, but it’s clear the book was a distraction to the Bulls at the time of its release.

Now, Smith is out to set the record straight. He was clear in an appearance on the Bonta, Steiny and Guru show on San Francisco’s 95.7 "The Game" Thursday that the idea Grant was his only source for the book is "nonsense." 

“I've been around that group since Michael arrived, and I knew Phil Jackson from the CBA in Albany. I've done a story on him when he was there," Smith said on the show. "(Bulls assistant) Johnny Bach was from Brooklyn. I knew him when he was coaching the Warriors in the 1980s. And so I knew all these people and had been around them.

“But it sort of brings me back to that era, because Horace was sort of a thorn with Michael, personally. He didn't take well to Michael sort of taunting some of the players who had fallen in line." 

RELATED: ‘Last Dance’: Horace Grant and Bulls teammates fire back at Michael Jordan

Smith said “The Jordan Rules” might have surprised people upon reading, given the book’s portrayal of Jordan's harsh personality. At the time, Jordan’s reputation — buoyed by marketing and advertising — was sterling, and his relationship with the media all positive.

"I always remembered I would joke with the players," Smith said, "Horace would have a game of 28 points, 16 rebounds, and the media would all crowd around him and ask him what he thought about Jordan's game. It was always like that with all the guys.

"Michael was so much quicker verbally than Horace. He would pick on him, get the last word, you know, much more articulate, as you've seen.”

Smith added that Grant and Scottie Pippen enjoyed an especially close friendship as teammates, one that endures to this day.

“Horace was a stubborn guy in his own right. He was very close with Scottie (Pippen). That was always Scottie's closest friend,” Smith said on the show. “And I think that's what all this is about. He's talking to Scottie. Scottie hasn't said anything publicly. Hasn't said a single thing about this and everything has been forced, if you will. I think he's defending Scottie. I think they still talk almost every day. This is probably partially coming from Scottie as far as a reaction to the things Horace is saying."

Grant has spoken out in vehement opposition of his portrayal in "The Last Dance" as the only source for “The Jordan Rules,” saying recently to David Kaplan on ESPN 1000 in Chicago earlier this week, that it was a lie. 

On the Bonta, Steiny and Guru show, Smith expanded on the key dynamics in the Bulls’ locker room at the time.

“Actually Michael should have liked Horace in that respect,” Smith said of Grant’s thorn-in-the-side nature, “because Horace challenged him, like Bill Cartwright did at one time — and Michael backed off — and Steve Kerr, and the famous fight and all. 

“Horace had come back at Michael and all that stuff was going on. But as you saw, Michael was not always easy to get along with."

A prescient point, indeed.

 

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