I arrive late to the party. Everyone is aware. The glares are laser-like and burning through my skin and into my bones. I want to do a little dance. I want to high-five everyone. I want to shout out, "I believed in this team from the start!" I want someone to hand me a beverage and congratulate me on my optimistic and accurate prediction. "You knew all along man. You kept telling us to believe, and we just thought you were crazy. You never gave up on us. You were there all season long. We love you man."
I try to soften the prickly mood by nicknaming one person for whom this shindig has been thrown: Captain Kirk. I proceed to impersonate William Shatner's overindulgent captain, "I ... must ? be ? in ? a ? dream." I then simulate giving the Heimlich to Lawrence Funderburke, who does not oblige to my humorous and quirky gesture. No one laughs, not even Kirk Hinrich himself.
I'm not discouraged yet. Tentatively I move along the corridor, passing Bennie the Bull, who turns away as if in disgust of my arrival. Another Bennie is standing next to him. I announce boisterously, "Hey you're the new Flash of Chicago! Get it, Flash Gordon?"
There's silence so deafening I can hear my right toenail grow, my pores open, and my Adam's apple dip and bob.
I move along, the Luvabulls Dancers diss, John Paxson scoffs, the Matadors jiggle.
I want to tell the team it was an innocent mistake, ignoring them all season long. I want to tell them had there been any inclination at all at the outset of the season that they may possibly make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, perhaps I would have tuned in a bit. Had I known that they would be feisty and scrappy to open the playoffs, well then perhaps I would have purchased a ticket or two (standing room only, of course).
Had I known Hinrich would blossom into a worthy leader, that some rookie named Chris Duhon might play so outstandingly to warrant a raise from the league minimum of $385,277 to something around $2.5 million next year, that 12-year journeyman Antonio Davis would still have enough fire in the chute, that Andrés Nocioni would come from a team called Tau Ceramica Baskonia Vitoria and score 35 points in two games, that the bench would lead the league in scoring this season, that the snarky head coach Scott Skiles would bump his head on the locker room door during the regular season and have an epiphany of playoff glory, then perhaps I would have ? hosted this party.
I see Duhon, Hinrich and Ben "Flash" Gordon talking together in the corner and I burrow my way into their huddle. I beg them to forgive me, pleading, "I'd rather suffer a left groin avulsion of the abductor longus muscle (or Nomar Garciaparra's recent injury) than have you guys ashamed of me. Please, stop torturing me by losing, by blowing a 2-0 lead."
As I'm standing there with pouty lip and frantically blinking eyelids, I'm astounded that I can look into each and every one of their eyes. Flash, or Ben, is the tallest of the three at 6-foot-3-inches. This is the cornerstone of an NBA playoff team, and I've got them by an inch or two, but I slouch and hang my head low anyway. There's no need for ego here.
I hold my tongue too. I don't want it known that although the Bulls' run thus far has been somewhat commendable, the NBA still has a long way to go. Perhaps putting an age-limit on the draft will help, but the game's pace at the pro level has to pick up. We're enthralled by college basketball because it's quick and graceful, yet intense.
But for now, let's just hope the Bulls get back to scrapping. So I don't have to crash another party.