Jake's Take: 7/30/10
A Rivalry Renewed
I love a good rivalry. Having a strong dislike or a distinct loathing toward another team makes those head-to-head contests feel infinitely better. It takes those games, and my excitement about them, to a whole other level. Not to mention the effect it has to have on the players. I have heard numerous sound bites from athletes saying the upcoming rivalry game is, "just another game." I'm calling shenanigans all over that sentiment. Rivalries mean something, and that's why this upcoming season is going to take on a feeling that I haven't felt in quite some time.
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For me, I detest everything that is Chicago sports. I have nothing against the city itself. I just wish with every ounce of my soul that teams from the Windy City fail miserably year after year. I'm not even so sure I could describe why I wish such bad things upon those franchises. Maybe it was instilled in me during childhood. Maybe it's just territorial pride. I see Cubs fans, and Bears fans, and Bulls fans migrate into our city and I want to protect it. I can't explain why I despise these teams, but I do. I don't even care about hockey, and I was furious when I found out the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
Let's start with the Cubs. I submit that there is zero to like about that franchise. One of my worst days as a sports fan in Milwaukee came when Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter in our Miller Park. I felt like he violated the sanctity of our stadium. But do I love that the Cubs fork out over $100 million a year in player salaries, all so they can cover around the .500 mark seemingly every season? Of course I do. It's one of the highlights of my summer.
I'd be lying if I said that the Vikings haven't replaced the Bears as, in my eyes, the Packers' biggest rival. A collection of college roommates who were obnoxiously die hard Viking fans, as well as the defection of a former Packer (I'll never forgive you Ryan Longwell), have left me with nothing but hatred for that team. That's not to say that I've suddenly gained respect for the Bears. This Jay Cutler spread alone is more than enough to dislike that team and its quarterback.
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This brings me to the Bulls. I honestly can't say that my feelings toward the Bulls are equal to the occasionally malicious feelings I have toward the rest of the sports landscape in Chicago. It took me a while to figure out why that is. After much consideration, though, I've come to the conclusion that a rivalry can't reach its apex unless both teams are playing at a high level at the same time. Once that occurs, my distaste for the opposition can start reaching its apex as well. It's all very proportional. With one comes the other.
The problem lies in the fact that it has been 20 years since the Bucks and the Bulls were both playoff-caliber teams during the same season. A rivalry loses its luster when one team is routinely beating up on the other or both teams are bad. Sure, both teams made the postseason in 2006, but the Bucks finished the regular season at 40-42 and the Bulls were only one game better at 41-41. Neither team had a real shot of advancing very far. You have to go all the way back to the 1990-91 season to find a season when both teams could be considered legitimate contenders.
In between then and now, the Bucks and the Bulls have alternated between periods of success. Chicago owned the 1990s while Milwaukee was struggling. The Bucks enjoyed their bout of success around the turn of the millennium, right when the Bulls were rebuilding following the end of Jordan's reign in Chicago. But never once in the last two decades have both teams been considered among the best in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference.
Significant offseason improvements from both teams -- as well as the southern migration of a certain someone's talents -- have left the Bucks and the Bulls as the favorites in the Central Division. Cleveland is a shell of its former self without that certain someone's talents, and both Detroit and Indiana are securely in rebuilding mode. That leaves Milwaukee and Chicago to duke it out for the division crown. As I mentioned earlier, this is a scenario that hasn't played out in 20 years, which is basically the entirety of my Bucks fandom. This is a foreign territory for me, but I plan on wallowing in the culture of this renewed rivalry.
Chicago was no doubt looking to make a bigger splash this offseason, but it's hard to argue with the results thus far. The Bulls used Utah's roster as their own personal minor league affiliate, calling up Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer to the big club. Boozer fills the low-post hole that Chicago has been trying to fill since it traded Elton Brand, Korver provides a nice drive-and-kick option for Derrick Rose and Brewer offers solid perimeter defense. Combine those three with holdovers Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and the Bulls own a solid seven-man rotation.
A seven-man rotation is nice, but it pales in comparison to what could be a 10-, 11- or even 12-man rotation in Milwaukee. What the Bucks may lack in name recognition, they more than make up for in depth and versatility. Their offseason acquisitions have left them with a roster that can match up with any lineup combination Chicago can put on the court. Milwaukee can go big, it can go small, it can go offensive, and it can go defensive.
It would be for the Bucks to be the odds-on favorite to run away with the division. But I can't deny the immense joy that I would take away from Milwaukee besting Chicago for the right to raise that division-championship banner. I wouldn't turn down an opportunity to capture a division crown over Cleveland, Detroit or Indiana, but doing so with Chicago as the primary competition would instill a sense of pride that can only come with taking out our Interstate 94 rival.
I fully intend on circling Milwaukee's games against Chicago as soon as the 2010-11 schedule is released. I have no doubt those games will be hotly contested, and I'm looking forward to seeing Bulls fans sulk out of the Bradley Center with their heads down. I've always wanted to beat the Bulls, but I can't say I've ever wanted to beat them this badly. I see a division title in Milwaukee's near future, and the last team I want to see steal that from me is Chicago. There's not much in life that can conjure up these kinds of feelings in me. But a good old-fashioned rivalry never seems to fail.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.