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The Embraceable Replace-a-Bulls

Feb. 15, 1999
Feb. 15, 1999

Table of Contents
Feb. 15, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

The Embraceable Replace-a-Bulls

Many of you have been kind enough to suggest that if I don't
climb off the Chicago Bulls' butts, you will come to my home,
rip my head off my shoulders and bowl with it.

This is an article from the Feb. 15, 1999 issue

O.K., how's this: I like the Bulls now. In fact, I'm rooting for
the Bulls.

I feel sorry for them. What they're up against you wouldn't wish
on a discount gum surgeon. Michael Jordan is driving the kids'
carpool (wink, wink). Scottie Pippen is hunting ring number 7 in
Houston. Dennis Rodman is missing, presumed dead. Phil Jackson
is at his home near Woodstock, N.Y., wondering when Country Joe
and the Fish are coming back on stage. Even the trainer left.
Playing for the Replace-a-Bulls is like sweeping up after the
Lindbergh parade or opening Studio 55. How would you like to
finally get invited to the party of your dreams, only to arrive
there and find half an egg roll on the carpet, some flat beer in
the dog dish and a pair of panty hose hanging from the chandelier?

Half the Bulls have never worn a Chicago uniform before this
season, and four have never played in the NBA before, including,
of course, Kornel David, the league's first Hungarian player.

Actual question by me to the league's first Hungarian player:
"Can you believe you're playing on Michael Jordan's old team?"

Actual answer by the league's first Hungarian player: "The food,
not so much. But then, excellent."

Change is everywhere. The other night at United Center, somebody
named Matt Steigenga had Pippen's locker and Rusty LaRue had
Jordan's. Half of Winetka got a facial tic. "Am I used to it
yet?" asked guard Ron Harper, the one starter the stars left
behind. "I go to the gym, they're not there. I go home, they're
not there. I come to the game, they're not there. Believe me, I
have to get used to it."

The other day Harper was out with Jordan when a fan came up to
them. "The guy goes, 'Hey, Michael, do you miss the game?'"
Harper says. "'Miss the game?' Michael said. 'The game misses
me!'"

Yeah, well, it's not easy to miss somebody when he won't go
away. In Chicago's opener of this 50-game Cliffs Notes of a
season last Friday night against the Utah Jazz, most of the
Replace-a-Bulls were made to wear Jordan's new line of Nikes "in
honor" of Jordan, becoming the first athletes in history asked
literally to fill someone's shoes. "Toni [Kukoc, who scored 32
in the opener] keeps coming into the locker room singing Glory
Days," says Brent Barry, the poor kid signed to take Jordan's
place. Tex Winter, the Bulls' longtime assistant coach, keeps
yelling in practice, "No, no, no! Scottie would've stepped up,
and Michael would've popped out there!" ("I need to stop doing
that," Winter says. "It's not fair. I don't see a lot of
Scotties and Michaels out there.")

The Old Bulls were like a Swifty Lazar party on wheels, with
three paparazzi per player. Even scrubs had to check into the
hotel under assumed names. None of the Replace-a-Bulls do now,
but maybe they should, given the kind of year they're about to
have.

The Old Bulls used to have to sneak through the hotel kitchen to
get to the bus. The Replace-a-Bulls go right out the front door,
like CPAs do. The other night in Salt Lake City there was a
crowd of four waiting out front to see them, and one of those
was a Saint Bernard.

The Old Bulls swaggered into town, crushed whatever feeble set
of slugs the local citizens propped up in front of them and then
gambled the whole flight home. USA Today's Danny Sheridan made
the Replace-a-Bulls 100,000 to 1 to win the NBA title.

Yet you root for them because their coach, Tim Floyd, fell for
the old bait and switch, thinking he was coming to town to date
Pamela Anderson and getting Louie Anderson instead. You root for
them because they had every right to get fricasseed by Utah and
nearly beat the Jazz instead, losing 104-96. You root for them
because they're in maybe the worst spot in NBA history, and they
don't whine.

Their only problem is they're about as savvy as Cub Scouts. In
the fourth quarter last Friday, Harper was kneeling at the
scorer's table, waiting to go back in, when he saw John Stockton
getting ready to feed Karl Malone for the four millionth time.
"Screen-and-roll!" Harper hollered. "Screen-and-roll!" Seventeen
thousand at the Delta Center saw it coming, but not a single
Replace-a-Bull on the court. In a flash Malone had the ball back
in Stockton's hands for an easy five-footer. Harper slapped his
forehead.

"It's all right, Ronnie!" some wiseacre called down from the
stands. "Only 49 left!"

But then, excellent.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
Playing for the Bulls now is like sweeping up after the
Lindbergh parade or opening Studio 55.