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Friday, June 7, 1996

Pilgrimage - Game 2



DecisionWednesday, June 5, 1996

“Nine and a half.” It was Mulligan.

“Hang on a minute." I said. "I’ve got to get rid of the other line.“

I put him on hold, and rip open the sports section. The line was ten in the SF Chronicle. His USA Today spread gave me an extra 1/2 point. A good omen. For the first time since the playoffs began, I felt good about the point spread. Mulligan was leaning, but needed a little push. I let him wait on hold for a while, then picked up the phone.

“I can’t believe this crap.“ I said with disgust. 

“These are the finals! Nine and a half is bullshit! Too many people are just throwing money at the Bulls and distorting the line... Seattle had the second best record in the NBA and now they are hot off their big win over Utah. The Bulls are rusty after the long layoff. What are these idiots thinking? “ 

It was enough for Mulligan. “I’m using my option on tonight’s game.“ He said. “We are on for a hundred tonight.” 

“Done.” I said. “Now let’s double it.” 

Silence. I waited. Finally he weakly cleared his throat “What did you say?”

“Yeah , I want to double the bet on the game tonight.” I should have stopped there but I could not restrain myself. “It’ll be a blowout. These are the same guys that lost by 30 in Utah. They don’t expect to win on the road. Did you see them celebrating after game seven in Seattle? They already won their championship. The Bulls are rested and ready, they’ll kill them.“ Even while I ranted I knew I was blowing my chances to increase the bet.

“Forget it.“ He said. “But I will give you the same option you gave me. You can push the bet to $100 on one of the remaining games.“

Damn. If I kept my mouth shut I could have gotten healthy in hurry. In our running playoff bet I get the Bulls, but must give him the line from the USA Today. The Bulls have not been covering, but I just can’t bet against them. I grew up in Chicago, and still carry my old sports loyalties. Not an easy thing in San Francisco, with the forty-friggin-niners chewing up the Bears year after year. Then there is the embarrassing legacy of the Cubs vs. Giants NLCS playoff in ‘89. Most years those loyalties are an albatross around my neck. But not now. Not this year. Not when the Bulls are running and destroying every record in the book.

I am having trouble concentrating on the 72 messages in my e-mail inbox. Staring vacantly out the window of my office the source of distraction comes into focus. It is like a buzzing low frequency hum somewhere inside of me. It is a nagging noise, tugging for the attention of my soul. It had been there for some time, noticeable yet not noticed, keeping me distracted and irritable. I recognize it now. It is a distant echo of the euphoric frenzy building in Chicago. It is that last vestige of my being still connected to Chicago and resonating with the collective sports unconscious there. It is calling me home. The Bulls. The Finals. The new United Center. That is where I should be.

Impossible. The tickets will cost a fortune. Besides, I have work to do. We just finished the fiscal year. I have a responsibility to ensure our deals were properly booked and credited. We have hiring to do. I have a responsibility to my management to organize the group for the new year. I have a responsibility to my reps to finish the agenda for next week's kickoff. The forecast is a shambles. We have to finish the business plan. There are now 86 messages in e-mail inbox. No, there just is not time right now. I sadly shake my head, sigh, and pick up the phone.

“Allison, see if you can get me on a flight to Chicago on Friday. Use my frequent flier points. I’ll need to be there by 4:00.“

I am stunned at the words coming out of my mouth and e-mail my brother in Chicago. My hands seem to have a life of their own as they pound the keys.
Harlan, I am thinking about coming in for the game Friday night.... What do you think tickets are going for? I could fly in on points ... go to the game ... fly out Saturday. You got plans? - MW

I took Harlan to the last Bulls game at the old Stadium two years ago. It was game six of the Bulls-Knicks series in the year before Michael’s return. A great game. A great finish for The Stadium. The Bulls won that game before having the seventh stolen by the zebras in New York.

Of Course! I remember I also bought a ticket for Andrew at that game. He worked for me at the time, and has since left the company. I have not talked to him in over a year. Still, I'm sure he will want to return the favor and buy me a ticket for Friday’s game. I give him a call.

As it turns out, Andrew is an ungrateful asshole.

That night the Bulls cover, winning by 17:

Basking in the afterglow of the victory, I begin to appreciate the historic importance of what is happening. The Bulls are 12-1 in the playoffs, a winning percentage of over 92%. This is better that the 88% winning percentage established by their record-smashing all-time never-to-be-broken 72-10 performance in the regular season. In the pressure cooker of the playoffs, against the best teams in basketball, the Bulls were actually improving on a near perfect season. There is no longer any doubt. This is the greatest NBA team that ever has been or ever will be. They will sweep Seattle in four. The very last chance to see The Greatest Team in the History of The NBA play at the United Center will be Friday night.

The decision is made.

Tickets - Thursday, June 6

Over morning coffee I read the San Francisco Chronicle sports section. Exactly one story about the game. One column. Very very unsatisfying. I long for a Chicago Tribune, knowing that there would be at least 12 stories on the game. In the Chron's editorial section is an article about Dennis Rodman, debating his impact on straight America’s perceptions of the gay community. The editorial is longer than the story on the game. I hate this fishwrap.

I log-on, and have 153 messages in my e-mail inbox. The only one I read is the reply from Harlan:
Tickets will be expensive. - H
I think I knew that. I tell him so. I go to the office.

I interview two candidates and am berated by my boss for not responding to a message she sent yesterday. I’m back on e-mail. There are 193 messages waiting. 

There is another message from Harlan. I read it first. It has prices and phone numbers from ticket brokers in Chicago. Much more useful. I call Don at “Who Needs Two” and lock down two third-row, upper-deck seats. 

I am determined to get through the rest of my e-mail. First message is a rabid flamer from Frank, complaining bitterly about the quota I assigned him for FY97. I consider his complaint briefly. Frank has not been feeling well lately. He’ll get over it. Enough e-mail. I walk down the block to a United office, pick up the plane tickets and call Harlan. 

“I’ve got the plane tickets, am arriving on United at 3:58 tomorrow, Can you pick me up at O’Hare?”

“Hmmmm. So you are really doing this? I didn’t think you would go through with it.” He is amused. I can almost see him shaking his head and smiling his MY BROTHER HAS MORE MONEY THAN SENSE smile. “I will only be too happy too pick you up and help you spend your money.” He always introduces me to his friends as “my rich brother.” I don't get it, I mean, its not like I went for the main floor.

Game Day - Friday, June 7

“What do you mean the flight is delayed.” A bead of sweat runs down my brow.

“I’m sorry sir. Your flight has been delayed for two and one half hours. It is now scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 6:30 p.m.“

Six-thirty PM! The game starts at 8:00. I start to panic. There is rain in Chicago. I think about holding patterns. I think about Chicago traffic at rush hour. I think I am going to miss the game. I become a little strident.

“You don’t understand. I’m going to the Bulls game. I have to leave now.“ For emphasis I wave the current issue of Sports Illustrated in her face. Gary Payton is on the cover under the headline “Mission Impossible.” I am not sure what affect I expect this to have on the woman at the ticket counter, but she is not impressed. “Yes sir." she says "Everyone on that flight is going to the Bulls game. The best I can do is put you on standby for the next flight out.” There are forty-three people on the standby list. I miss the flight.

Waiting for the next flight in the Red Carpet Room I dispose of 23 e-mails. The inbox is down to 213. I call Mulligan. and push tonight’s bet to $100. His voice is a low defeated monotone. This is a wounded, desperate man. I reach for the salt and bring up the Clinton bet. Last year he gave me ten to one odds that Clinton would be defeated. Then it looked like a sure thing. Now he was staring into the void. He thought he was chipping away at that bet with the Bulls, but even that was slipping away. I twist the knife by reminding him that Harlan has an additional $10 of action on the Clinton Bet. I feel much better after the call and clear the next standby flight.

Harlan meets me at the gate. He is taking pictures and says we will have to document this on the Web. The United terminal is plastered with Bulls paraphernalia. Everyone is wearing the stuff. I mean that literally, EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE UNITED TERMINAL WITHOUT A SINGLE EXCEPTION IS WEARING BULLS STUFF. Really. 

Outside it is a gray and misty 69 degrees. Every Billboard on the highway is about the Bulls. I MEAN EVERY SINGLE BILLBOARD WITHOUT A SINGLE EXCEPTION BETWEEN O'HARE AND THE UNITED CENTER IS ABOUT THE BULLS. 

The buzzing in my head explodes into the Bulls theme. I cannot get it out of my mind, nor do I want to. The theme seems to get louder and as we approach the Center, random weirdness begins to break into the reality field. A limo races by with a woman hanging out of the sunroof. Ira Glass is on the radio explaining how relationship problems in Chicago are resolved by using a Chicago Bulls metaphor: “You see darling, you are Phil Jackson and I am Dennis Rodman. You ground me so that I may soar.” I am frightened because I understand exactly what he is talking about. 

The eye of the hurricane. The United Center. A suburban fortress in a neighborhood of desolation. We circumnavigate the Center, pay homage at The Statue and go in. The strained reality field shatters into a million splintered images. We are in the Zone. Take a free Bulls towels. Take a free “Space Jam” hat. Buy a program. Elvis impersonators on stilts are singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I inhale an Italian beef sandwich piled high with hot peppers and quaff an Old-Style beer. We check out the paraphernalia concessions. “No, we don’t have the Rodman Tattoo shirts - He sued the guy making them.”

Found the seats. Not bad, full view of the court. 

My portable phone rings. It is Mulligan. He wants out of the bet. No way. Harlan grabs the phone and they talk for a while.They agree to increase his Clinton bet to $100 at five to one odds. More beer.

We discuss the problem of the Luvabulls and conclude the solution is less clothing. The players are on the court and warming up. We drink more beer.

The lights dim. The music starts. The lasers dance. At home, on TV, the Bulls intro sequence drags on interminably. Here at the Center, it is a transcendent experience. I don’t want it to end.

Back-posted for historical reference.
From a contemporaneous web post consigned to the dustbin of history in the pre-blog era.