They Can't All Be Winners, Part 9: Chicago Bulls

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Between my neighborhood and Chicago’s downtown, there’s some strange shit. I’m with the brunch-goers; the young, judgmental mothers; the front-yard-barbecuing Latino families; the old, stoop-sitting Ukrainian men; the mesh-shorts-in-the-daytime, weed-reeking douchebags; the skateboarding girl, where you headed? dispensers; the mutt-white males who look like me—metaphysical copywriters, all of us—and the mutt-white women who look like my fiancée.

And downtown, there is money. Money’s here, too—there’s a five-million dollar house down the street from me: a tasteful, big-windowed rectangle with a bronze gate and security cameras—but downtown, there is more: walking Dior dresses—metaphysical PR agents, all of them—with lollipop-sized sunglasses, grousing into their iPhones; gym memberships in windsor knots; day-drunk rich kids; handsome tourists, in from New York, LA, or London, with quiet, well-dressed children toddling alongside; approximations of me, if I had the stomach and smarts for lawyering; and approximations of my fiancée, if she had been a marketing major instead of an artist. All of this, for the most part, is blindingly white, to the extent that even my pale self takes notice.

Maybe both places are strange.

Anyway, the in-between part is, too: yellow and blue townhouses 500 feet from the expressway; trattorias with mediterranean boys smoking cigarettes out front and bars with Irish signifiers in the windows; a six-way intersection; WE BUY GOLD! and movie billboards; a custom suit shop, a jeweler, a Maserati dealership. The pedestrians here always seem to be walking downtown, or toward my neck of the woods. I’ve never seen anyone enter or exit the townhouses. I don’t know what sort of person lives in this nowhere. Whoever they are, they’re not stretching their dollar, because rent can’t be cheap, and there are many more obviously desirable locations to call home in this city.

I feel like I could live here sometimes. Lose my fiancée in a bad argument, stop answering my phone, drink High Lifes and watch teevee all day—hole up in a studio, let the checking account dwindle, and take my own life, in this nowhere. This notion comforts me. When I cross the six-way intersection, I am serene.

* * *

Even when the Bulls were full of hope, they were strange. Derrick Rose seemed asynchronous with himself. In the aftermath of LeBron’s Miami defection, he became the league’s darling due to his game resembling a cubist bombing raid and his off-court persona resembling a napping laundry bag full of humility. He received the what a nice young man! treatment fans and media simpletons give great athletes who haven’t been around long enough to piss them off yet.

All the adulation glossed over the interesting parts of Rose’s personality, namely the angry sulkiness with which he dominated basketball games. Russell Westbrook wrests control of a contest with all the subtlety of a zooted-out-of-his-gourd plane hijacker; Kyrie Irving dazzles the opposition into submission; and Chris Paul has an utterly confident inwardness, as if he can fretlessly do his own thing and the game will bend in his direction. Before the leg injuries struck him down, Rose was a mélange of all three. He was Paul’s calm, Irving’s baffling showiness, and Westbrook’s rage, in one fragile body. He would scream down the lane with abandon, but seem within himself. He would finish a gymnastic lay-in, and look furious about it. Maybe the best way to put it is he played as if always on the verge of being very, very upset. He had control, but just barely. This perilousness made him the league’s most fascinating player.

At his peak, Rose was flanked by two similarly discontent men. Tom Thibodeau’s head coaching tenure was a David Mamet play about being in love with a miserable job, and Joakim Noah conceives of happiness as a particular shade of anger.

Now, Thibs is gone, Noah is hobbled, and Rose flits in and out of the lineup, in and out of form. No team with Jimmy Butler should be called a husk, and there’s a slight possibility Fred Hoiberg is the apple-cheeked genius Jerry Reinsdorf and Gar Forman believe him to be, but the Bulls are indisputably between eras. They could head in any number of directions over the next handful of years, but as currently constituted, they’re doomed to what passes for competence in the East.

* * *

The Bulls play a mile-and-a-half from my apartment, near some impersonal midrises and revamped warehouses. It’s another of Chicago’s nowheres. I walked down there once, just to see it, and the neighborhood around the United Center, when it isn’t filled with thousands of people bussed in from Wrigleyville, and Wicker Park, and the Gold Coast, is like a body that all the blood’s run out of.

There are a lot of anti-places like that, in this city. Some of them are poisoned fruit from Chicago’s defining ignominy—a government that maintains twin cities to the north and south, one significantly safer and more looked-after than the other—and some are byproducts of geography, or money and bad taste, or simple flux: rows of ugly modern condos interrupting midcentury walkups, wan shopping plazas, the haunted bones of once-hopping neighborhoods, aborted gentrification efforts. They dot the city like civic zits. No matter where you are, you’re close to one.

* * *

I was walking through that six-way intersection the other day, on my way to pick up a suit for my friend’s wedding. I was thinking about another friend who is far away, and hurting, and whom I cannot help. I was thinking about money, and my unemployment, and, as I picked my head up and glimpsed a large video screen ad for a divorce lawyer, about how there is something about being in a space that mirrors the way you feel.

Then I passed the intersection, walked over the river, and thought about how the day might go.

The Bulls are Derrick Rose burning through defenses, and Derrick Rose playing like he’s dry-heaving, trying to purge himself of something stuck within. The city is tall, handsome churches and vacant lots blocked off by collapsing chainlink fences. I am at the end of the day, two am in the back of a cab with the bride and groom, babbling and happy, and I am feeling like I am ending, wanting to be left alone, thinking those yellow and blue townhouses look good. There's a park up the street from me. I almost ruined several relationships there, when I was younger and lived in a different part of the city. Rose was still all air raid sirens, then.

How might this go? I'd bet Fred Hoiberg hasn't the requisite chutzpah for the job, but then I loved Thibodeau. I love anyone who works like they're staving off despair, works like if they work hard enough it won't overwhelm them, knowing in their heart they'll eventually fail.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets Philadelphia 76ers Houston Rockets Los Angeles Lakers Dallas Mavericks |Indiana Pacers Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies

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