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The Bulls of the Michael Jordan era benefited from that over the course of their six championships. Yet those Bulls also had a steely determination that transcended favoritism; witness how they never played a seventh game in the NBA Finals, no matter how intent the refs appeared to be to extend a series for the benefit of TV networks.
Wouldn’t it have been sweet if this season’s Bulls had ironically upset that whole caste system.? A humble team with a swarming defense and but a single superstar—homegrown, youngest-ever Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose—the Bulls seemed designed to beat the Miami Heat and its “three kings” set of mercenaries: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, united last summer in a ballyhooed media event. Right up through the first half of the second game of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls seemed to have a handle on the Heat. At that point, they hadn’t lost to them all season, and they’d taken the series opener by 21.
The Bulls weren’t to win another.
The Heat exploited a dramatic and utterly undeserved disparity in foul calls and free throws—its league-granted modus operandi all season. But the Bulls would have had more to complain about if they hadn’t played so poorly down the stretch of each of their four losses, if Carlos Boozer hadn’t ignited the Heat with a pair of flagrant fouls in the last two, if they’d performed with more composure and not relied on Rose to play one-on-one streetball to break the Heat’s quick-shifting double-teams, and if coach Tom Thibodeau hadn’t insisted on playing Rose again and again all the way through the second half. Of course, it would have helped if James hadn’t played so great as well, hitting long three-pointers when he was barely open and turnaround, fallaway jumpers on one end, and playing defense at the other with a league-approved impunity truly reminiscent of Jordan.
So for all their justified complaints, the Bulls had no one to blame. They beat themselves, just as all Jordan’s victims did at some point or other. A steelier, more composed, more mature team might have overcome the inequities. Instead, they’re left with a time-honored Hollywood rationalization to soothe them: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”