On Sunday, millions of Bulls fans across the world gathered around their TVs to watch the first installment of The Last Dance—Jason Hehir’s much-heralded ten-part documentary miniseries about Michael Jordan and my beloved Bulls.
Alas, I was not one of them.
I know what you’re thinking: Benny Jay, how could you, the most dedicated of Bulls fans, not watch this tribute to your favorite team’s greatest achievement?
And the answer is . . .
I don’t have cable. I’ve never had cable—even in the glory years. I was a broke-ass Reader writer—who could afford it?
So, it’s altogether fitting that I not be able to watch this ESPN miniseries as I couldn’t watch the events unfolding in real time—at least from the comfort of my home.
But don’t think I didn’t watch them at all. Oh, no, I long ago learned to adapt to my cablelessness, watching Bulls games in bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys.
Mostly, I got by with a little help from my friends, particularly my dear friend Cap, who shares my love for the Bulls. Though during blowouts, Cap reserves the right to turn to The Big Bang Theory—the man loves The Big Bang Theory, people—which always seems to be playing somewhere on cable.
Not having seen the Bulls documentary does not, however, prevent me from commenting about it. In fact, I find myself constantly giving editing advice to Hehir, a man I don’t know, about a documentary I’ve never seen. To cite one example . . .
Hey, Hehir—make sure you mention Norm Van Lier! You cannot produce a documentary about the Bulls without mentioning my all-time favorite Bull!
The thing about me and my Bulls obsession is that I have a bizarre, almost Rain Man–like ability to instantly tell you where I was and what I was doing at any great, or even not-so-great, moment of the Jordan run.
As in the day when Jordan forever changed—with one shot—the attitude Bulls fans had toward their team. Before that, the best Bulls teams were filled with inspirational overachievers who were just good enough to break your heart by losing in the playoffs because they didn’t have a superstar closer.
All of that changed, of course, on May 7, 1989, when . . . well, let me set the scene.
Mayor Daley had just been elected to the first of six terms. Not sure how that’s germane, but I thought I’d mention it—’cause, you know, I am a political writer.
The best-of-five, first-round series against Cleveland was tied at two. The Bulls should have eliminated the Cavs in game four, except Jordan missed a clutch free throw.
That’s correct. Jordan missed a free throw. Naturally, I can tell you where I was when he missed it . . .
I was at a dinner party with a bunch of artsy-fartsy types. Not a TV in sight, much less one with cable. This bunch didn’t even know the Bulls were playing. I snuck out of the dining room to listen on a portable radio in the kitchen.
Game five was on a Sunday afternoon on national TV, meaning even I would get to watch. But—get ready for this—I had to work.
Yes, work. On a Sunday. The Reader had assigned me to write a story about an all-class reunion at Alvernia, a Catholic high school that was closing because of falling enrollment. As any freelancer can understand, I was in no position to turn down a paying assignment—even for one of the greatest Bulls games in history.
Hey, Hehir, you should do a documentary about the trials and tribulations of Reader writers!
By the time I broke away from that reunion, the fourth quarter had started. With no time to drive home, I dashed to a nearby apartment where my wife was visiting a friend, and I arrived just in time to catch the final play. And we all know what happened—come on, Chicago, all together now . . .
Bulls’s ball. Down one. Three seconds left . . .
Brad Sellers—who never gets the credit he deserves for his inbounding pass—gets the ball to Jordan. And Jordan drives left, jumps, hangs for what seems like forever, and shoots at the buzzer . . .
Man, when Jordan hit that shot, I started jumping up and down like a pogo stick, bellowing, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
As I bellowed, I looked down to see my infant daughter sitting on the floor, staring up at me in quizzical disbelief, as if to say: “What the f . . .”
It was just my way of telling her—welcome to the dance, kid.
Two years later, the Bulls broke through and won their first championship, and all of Chicago celebrated—by then, even the artsy-fartsy crowd had learned to bask in the greatness of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Some of them anyway.
If this column was a documentary, the screen would now fade to black as updates scrolled by . . .
In 2011, Daley left office—probably looking to go out on top before someone beat him. Just like Jordan’s Bulls.
For the last few years, the building that housed Alvernia has been a CPS magnet high school.
And my infant daughter is grown up and living in LA. But she’s no Lakers fan. Don’t even think that. Man, that girl’s a Bulls fan for life.
And me? I’m as faithful as ever to my beloved Bulls. As bad as they are. And they’re bad. In fact, the only good thing you can say about the coronavirus pandemic is that it prematurely ended another wretched Bulls season.
I know I’ll get around to watching The Last Dance. I just don’t know when or how. Maybe I’ll sneak over to Cap’s house—though he’ll probably make me wear a hazmat suit. In the meantime . . .
Hey, Hehir, don’t forget to give Brad Sellers credit for that pass! v