Old Friends Return to Chicago for the Holidays

Love and basketball can have many things in common. There’s the passion, the exhilaration and often the feeling that you never fully appreciated what you had until it’s gone.

Derrick Rose Wednesday was back in the United Center for just the second time since the Chicago basketball prodigy, multiple All-Star, Rookie of the Year and MVP was traded by the Bulls in 2016.

And so were Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, three of the principal players of the greatest basketball team Chicago has had since the 1998 departures of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the championship Bulls.

Though that period, especially the 2010-12 seasons when the Bulls led the NBA in wins for consecutive seasons, often is forgotten or ignored in a haze of playoff disappointments, generally due to the presence of LeBron James, but also because of injuries, primarily to Rose in the first game of the 2012 playoffs.

It was a bittersweet reunion Wednesday as Bulls staffers warmly greeted Rose, Gibson and Deng, and yes, former coach Tom Thibodeau as well, while Rose and his Minnesota Timberwolves were outrunning the Bulls 119-94.

Rose had a flashback game in this flashback season with 24 points. And as exciting and dazzling as Rose was, perhaps even more special was those 2010-11 and 2011-12 teams that were the class of the NBA almost like the Warriors have been in recent years, sans the championships.

Which is also why people are quick to forget. The lack of ultimate satisfaction in sports is often too painful to recount. Sports becomes a zero sum game with a winner and loser. You didn’t win; so you were a loser.

Though there were so many special moments with those teams.

“I was always very proud of that team, what they accomplished and how hard they fought,” said Thibodeau. “Then of course to see where Derrick is now after all he’s been through, to be able to overcome that and get past all the adversity he’s gone though, to be injured for three years and now playing at an All-Star level again. I’ve always said this, ’As time goes on, there will be a greater and greater appreciation for all he did here.’”

And for that team, as well, says Thibodeau.

It was a team basically assembled out of disappointment, the Bulls in the summer of 2010 in the competition to sign free agents LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But when they all settled in Miami, the Bulls recouped with Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik. It became a unit greater than its individual parts that dominated Miami in the regular season, lost a tough five-game 2011 conference finals series to the Heat and then felt ready in 2012 until Rose’s ACL injury.

“The first year I think we were predicted for 40 or 42 wins, something like that,” recalled Thibodeau. “I thought that team got the absolute most out of what we had. You’re talking about a guy in Derrick who was 22, but we had a lot of guys have great years. Luol became an All-Star, Taj, Joakim (Noah). They gave you everything they had and they did that for five years. It was a team that was resilient and was tough and whatever came our way we just handled. A lot of guys grew; Jimmy (Butler) was a big part of that as well.

“The one thing about the fans here, they are very knowledgeable,” said Thibodeau. “They appreciate good play and a team that plays hard and plays together and I thought there was great appreciation for the team and the way they competed. So when you look back you feel proud of what we accomplished to be a part of a great tradition like the Bulls are.

“The one great strength of that team was the depth,” explained Thibodeau. “Basically we had three guys share that (shooting guard) position. Keith (Bogans) started games and we know what he meant to the team. Usually the two guards (against him) never got off. Ronnie Brewer played and then Kyle finished, so we had the shooting at the end. What made that team so good was everyone starred in their role. Whatever their role was they were great at, Joakim being Joakim and Omer did a great job for us and Kurt Thomas. It was a together team and terrific team to be around and good guys.”

And none better than Gibson, who like Rose Wednesday drew ovations from the Chicago crowd.

“It’s a great arena,” said Gibson. “There are a lot of great memories, lot of history. It’s one of those places where you remember all the positives. There were so many good things while we were playing here that it’s hard to count. Seeing the sellout crowds every night, it gets no better than that. You kind of take it for granted once you’re away from it.

“As soon as I got on the bus (to the arena Wednesday), I had a garbage truck driver pull up on me and just honk his horn and we had a whole conversation. That’s how Chicago is,” said Gibson. “I always get love when I come back.”

It was a great time.