Chicago Just Not LeBron's Kinda Town
Oh sure, I know Cleveland had him and lost him. Nothing is worse than that. This could be the night sports died in Cleveland. James plays for Miami now.
But I wonder if people know what this night meant to Chicago. As a Chicagoan, let me put it this way:
This is 100 percent embarrassing.
It is a blot on the grand Chicago tradition that has built this city, of palm-greasing, strong-arming and backdoor deals. I mean, first the Olympics blows off Chicago and then King James does.
What is Chicago now, Des Moines?
Chicago thought it had the big-endorsement market for James, the big chance for him to win, and of course, the big legacy of Michael Jordan for James to be a part of. On top of that, it had President Obama, whose plea proved to be as helpful as it was for the 2016 Games. He is now 0-for-2.
Being snubbed by the Olympics, and then by James, might not sound that big to most people. But in this town, it is.
A common misunderstanding about Chicago is that it's called the Windy City because of the cool breeze off Lake Michigan. Actually, it's about the hot air that came from town politicians and boosters, always talking too big, building Chicago up.
Somehow, that has worked for Chicago for over a century, landing World's Fairs, the busiest airport, the tallest building, the toughest mayor.
It's about an upfront and open self-belief mixed with wheeling, dealing. So even down to the last minute Thursday night, Chicago thought it still had a chance with James. I mean, why wouldn't he pick Chicago?
Surely, someone had made this happen the Chicago Way.
The city's big-talkers thought it had the 2016 Olympics. On the day of the big announcement, a big party was lined up under the huge Picasso statue in the Daley Plaza. Thousands of people packed trains to get there. The sidewalks were mobbed with fans walking toward the celebration, expected later in the day, when hundreds of people were already leaving.
Chicago had already been dumped in the first round of voting. Now, same feeling. And not only did the Bulls fail to get James, but also backup plan Dwyane Wade, who's a Chicagoan. And Chris Bosh. The Bulls frantically hired coach Tom Thibodeau, after passing on him a few years ago, only after he had signed on with William Wesley's agency. Wesley is known as World Wide Wes, the supposed James middleman who theoretically could deliver the King. This had Chicago written all over it. But turns out, the Bulls were duped.
The Bulls also dumped shooting guard Kirk Hinrich so they could have a little more room under the salary cap for LeBron, and also for Wade or Bosh. On Wednesday morning, Wade and Bosh announced they would be play for Miami. Rumor was that James' announcement Thursday night would likely be that he would stay in Cleveland or join Wade and Bosh. The Bulls, said an ESPN guy, "could still attract a couple nice players."
I'm sorry, but, the Windy City had no interest in a couple nice players. It was about getting The Player. In fact, it was about replacing Michael Jordan.
So in a panic on Wednesday, the Bulls suddenly overpaid royally for free agent Carlos Boozer. His deal is supposedly five years for $75 million. He is an excellent power forward, but doesn't move well. He also does the one thing Chicagoans hate most from athletes: He misses lots of games with injuries.
But Boozer was the great and last LeBron lure. He was a former LeBron teammate, and also was the evidence, with young star point guard Derrick Rose, that this team could win a title with James.
All chips were in.
Now, the Bulls actually are better. But they needed James. Chicago had huge civic pride when Jordan was winning championships for the Bulls. Oddly, Bulls management, led by chairman and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and his little sidekick GM Jerry Krause, who always looked like he had food stuck to his face, got a little windy when Jordan was around, wanting credit.
They deserved credit for successfully having Jordan land in their laps on draft day.
But Krause, famously in this city, said that players don't win championships, organizations do.
And the organization, to prove its point, ran off Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson before they had to go.
The organization is still haunted by that. It has tried for 12 years -- with Krause now gone - to prove that it was bigger than Jordan, to be something without him. It hasn't worked.
Once, the organization tried to land Tracy McGrady by meeting him at the airport with a three-piece band, cheerleaders and mascot Benny the Bull. You'd think Reinsdorf would learn. He has been around for years. He knows the Chicago Way.
The Bulls, unable to fix things quickly, then decided to do things the supposed-right way. That meant work ethic. It meant Hinrich, the hard-coaching style of Scott Skiles, the genius of GM John Paxson. They skyrocketed from embarrassment to mediocrity. It was all overseen by Reinsdorf, whose organization has won an impressive six NBA championships.
None without Jordan.
So getting James wasn't about improvement. This bumbling organization, trying to prove its worth, knew that it didn't know how to build anything.
The best way to prove that Michael Jordan wasn't responsible for those six titles was to get a new Jordan. So this wasn't trying to prove a point.
And point proven, I guess. How humiliating to see Chicagoans fumble a deal.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org