What’s up people. If you are a true basketball fan, this is the best time of the year. The best players in the world on the grandest stage. The NBA Finals. There is no bigger spotlight and no greater drama. If you have noticed, the Cleveland Cavaliers have opened up the Quicken Loans Arena on game nights when the Cavs are playing at Golden State. Fans likely pay a very small amount to come in, watch the game with other fans, and get the full game experience that includes everything. Well, except the teams themselves. Sounds silly? Sounds awesome? Both are correct. How do I know? I’ll share in one second…
First, Summer is upon us! BT Basketball has so many offerings for you to get your game to the next level. From Summer Camps, to Summer League, to Summer Improvement Series, we have you COVERED during these hot, wonderful days. Remember, Summer is always the time where you make massive gains and come back next season a new player. Take advantage of these few months and combine them with our knowledge and expertise. Click on any one of the tabs right up top of this page to get all the info you need for every event we are holding. Make it happen! Now, back to the story…
To say I was a Bulls fan back in the day is a wee bit of an understatement. MJ was king of the world during that time and the Bulls were the rock show of rock shows. Every game they played was an event. I saw them a number of times live and did my best to watch every televised game and catch every Sportscenter highlight. It was 1998 and the Bulls were once again in the Finals. 3rd year in a row and the 6th time in 8 years (thanks to a certain baseball getaway). They were in the midst of what they called the Last Dance. The contracts of Jordan, Rodman, Pippen and Phil Jackson were all up after this year and there were tons of rumblings that this was going to be it, win or lose. The drama surrounding the series was at an absolute fever pitch due to all of these factors. End of an era, one of the most dominant stretches of basketball by a team and individual the league had ever seen. Could they pull it off and cap it with their second 3peat? They were in a hard fought series with the Utah Jazz for the second year in a row. A team with two Hall of Famers (some guys named Stockton and Malone) and this time, Utah were the favorites. After going up 3-1 on their home court, the Bulls got a tad lazy and lost a close out Game 5 at home. Meaning they had to travel back to one of the most hostile arenas in all the land to try to finish off the Jazz in Game 6 or possibly have to go to a game 7. I was pumped, nervous, all the emotions you feel when your squad is on the brink of a championship. Couldn’t wait for that night to come and get myself back in front of the TV and see how it all played out. Little did I know the opportunity that was about to present itself.
The phone rings and it’s my step dad, Roger. We were chatting briefly about the series when he said, so what are you doing for the game? A bit confounded, I simply replied that I would be watching here with friends. Why do you ask? I remember the response like it was yesterday. “Turns out they open the doors at the United Center (in Chicago) to fans for only $10. They play it like the game is actually there. Concessions, cheerleaders, lineups, halftime show, you name it. And they play the game up on the big screen. I have a friend who lives in Chicago, is going, and said they would meet up with you and take you. You in?”
Wait, what? Yes, yes, andddddd YESSSSS! Are you kidding? Not just watching the game, in that atmosphere, but the energy of the city, the building, the experience. Holy moly what if they win?! Would it be crazy? Would they be turning cars over? Would it be something I remember for the rest of my life? Only one way to find out.
I hop a flight to Chicago on game day. This would be my first trip to the “House that MJ built”. A veritable mecca for any die hard MJ or hoops fan. The statue, the trophies, the banners. Here I come. Now back up a second. I’ve had people ask me in the past… you went alone? Best believe it! I knew I was meeting with some other diehards and so what if we had never met before. Sometimes you just have to take a leap and allow life to be life. Adventures are amazing if you let them breathe. We meet up and head straight to the stadium. I’m so excited I can barely contain any of it. Even more pumped now that I know the people I’m with are just as jacked as I am. We pull up and there it is, sitting right out front. The statue…
Incredible, etched right out of stone and capturing every essence, down to the helpless defenders!
There are people everywhere, the energy is palpable. Bulls jerseys, signs, you name it!
Time to enter the stadium and wow, just took it up another notch. All the stores were open as were all the areas showing off the hardware. Some pretty amazing stuff. I was like a kid in a candy store, wide eyed on Christmas morning. We passed the five trophies sittig side by side (would six come this night?) and I screeched like a little girl.
We moved along a little further and saw the center circle of the old Chicago Stadium where they had won the first three of their world championships. The new stadium was built during the brief MJ retirement. Parts of the legendary old floor were also on display.
The energy and momentum just kept building and building as we moved closer to game time and entering the arena. I will always contend that any live event you go to, basketball, baseball, football, a concert, that very first moment where you lay eyes on the court, field, or stage are the moments it all becomes real. Walking down that concourse, right to the moment where it is on full display, is a moment that always gives me the chills. This time was no different.
The crowd was still filing in but man oh man was it hyped. On every seat was a cutout that proclaimed “Repeat the 3Peat”. I still have this in my closet today as a great memento from that night! Getting closer to gametime. If you remember that time, you absolutely and unequivocally remember when they announced the lineups for the Bulls. Spine tingling fun. If you don’t recall, well let’s refresh your memory as it’s the BEST intros of any sport ever! Froooooom North CAAAAAROLINAAAA…
And here we go! What unfolded from here is truly remarkable and forever in the history books. It was honestly like the teams were playing there. I know that sounds crazy. But every aspect of a live game was in tact. The crowd (including myself) was frenzied throughout. Knowing what was on the line, the incredibly high stakes, only served to heighten the tension and energy of every single possession. Pippen hurt himself early on in the game, Rodman had rendered himself useless at that point and they were fighting a crowd that was up there with the best in the NBA. It became clear that MJ was either going to bring the team home, or they were going to a Game 7. Possibly without Pippen. In enemy territory. Against multiple future Hall of Famers. Oh boy.
I remember at one point during a timeout in the 4th quarter taking a deep breath and looking around, just soaking it all in. How did I get here? How fortunate am I? How freaking awesome is this????
The game continues and down to the last minute where the Jazz take the lead by 3. Uh oh. What transpired from here is not only classic MJ, but NBA Finals lore. People only remember the last shot. What they often forget is the quick bucket to cut the lead to 1, and the following steal from Malone that led to the game winner. Let’s revisit….
The United Center instantly became the loudest place I had ever been. Jumping up and down, hugging people you didn’t even know. Absolute pandemonium and mayhem. The final shot of the Jazz missed and it was official, I was part of history in a place that 36 hours earlier I had no idea about. Total and complete bedlam. Not only did they win, but I may have just seen the final shot of MJ’s career after a 45 point effort to win a 6th ring! Was this happening???
Notice the score. This was soon after the buzzer sounded and not only were the players in the midst of their initial celebration, but confetti was flying everywhere, much to the pleasure of every fan in attendance. It seemed to go on forever. Nobody wanted to leave. Music was playing. Then they stopped it so we could hear the interviews. The lights went back down and the trophy presentation began. They referenced all the fans back in Chicago and the building erupted as Jordan raised the hardware to the sky!!!!
It felt like I had played in the game myself! So much energy expended, both physical and emotional! I finally got to the point where I was so overwhelmed with joy that I had to rest my bones. And this, folks, captured on a now old camera, is joy, and exhaustion, personified…
We left the building but the party was just getting started. The craziness continued into the streets. People waving their Repeat the 3Peat signs up and down every street. High 5’s all around. The city of Chicago had a good night that night.
Back in my hotel room later that night, all alone. Trying to make sense of what just happened. It was a dream come true that I didn’t know could come true, yet alone that I even had. All the circumstances came together for one evening that could not ever be forgotten. I turned on the tv and layed down in the bed. I decided to watch the local news and absorb every last drop of this that I could before hopping on the plane the next morning. The news went on for hours and hours and as tired as I was from the quick traveling and the game, I was intent on catching every ounce. And that’s what I did. Until finally, close to 3am, the broadcast began to sign off. They played a montage of the Bulls season and their playoff run with a song running behind it. A song that to this day, when I hear it, brings me back to that hotel room. As I lay there watching, I made a promise to myself to remember that risks are good. Adventures should never be turned down. Experiences are what life is all about. When the song begins to fade and I realize how fortunate I am, a tear drops from my eye…