An appreciation of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan heading into Game 5

The two stars wear their hearts on their sleeves and have battled hard in a physical series vs. Milwaukee.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

DeMar has left the building. With Zach, as it turned out.

Not like it was declared for Elvis when the concert was over. Nor is it the end of the Bulls first round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Though with the Bucks leading 3-1 with Game 5 in Milwaukee 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, few are giving the Bulls much chance against the defending NBA champions.

But unexpected things happen, like NBA players angry about a loss.

Like DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine apparently were Sunday afternoon in walking off the court with 12.1 seconds still left in the Bucks 119-95 victory and the Bulls dribbling out the last discouraging seconds.

Good for Zach and DeMar!

Enough with all this embracing and congratulating the guys who kicked the crap out of you and embarrassed you. Finally, some honesty, authentic human emotion and transparency from a professional athlete. It hurt; it wasn't fun, and I didn't like it.

I congratulate DeRozan and LaVine and hope others follow their model.

DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine combined for 47 of the Bulls 95 points in Game 4.

Enough with the supposed sportsmanship. You can be a high character person and not rush to applaud your subjugator. And I never understood hockey, anyway. C'mon, you can't even see the puck.

There was some indignation following the Bulls loss about DeRozan and LaVine. I'm told there was discussion on Twitter, which I'm not involved with. I did see Sam Mitchell on the NBA-TV postgame show criticizing DeRozan and LaVine for their apparent sportsmanship breach.

Because these days the generally accepted ethos is—though I'm not sure the hugging is required—that after you lose you are supposed to congratulate the winner, shake his hand, pat him on the back, pretty much thank him for humiliating you.

Thank you sir, may I have another?

We're supposed to believe this? I suppose it's plausible, but who are these guys?

I don't believe that's really them because NBA players do take it seriously and they do compete and they do care. I've seen enough to be confident about that.

But somehow, perhaps from external pressures or belief of how they are supposed to behave, the postgame ritual has become insincere and distorted.

Who's really happy for someone else who achieves what you desperately sought?

Talk about your cognitive dissonance. Happy for your opponent?

Am I a bad person? No, just an honest one.

And, by the way, the 1991 Pistons got a bad rap for this. I'll get to that.

I've watched plenty of professional sports, and like many of my Walter Mitty colleagues writing about sports, I played when I was younger, even in college and dabbling afterward. Though I also was able to look in the mirror and know that I wasn't a professional athlete. But it didn't mean I didn't practice it similarly. I've known competitors as serious as Michael Jordan. Just not 6-foot-6 with that first step.

I can't recall ever thanking someone for beating me after the game. I didn't hate them; well, maybe a little. But I knew I didn't want to speak with them. I was angry, I was hurt. I'd failed. I cared. I'll get to it if we run into one another another day.

It never seems like great sportsmanship to me to watch those forlorn college kids after the NCAA games being forced to congratulate the guys wearing the nets as a necklace.

I know what being a sportsman and sincere competitor is about. It's about respecting your opponent.

Which means competing seriously to show you honor their talent. Like also not screaming invective in their face during the game, prancing around when you succeed, trying to belittle and demean them with words and actions. Yeah, trash talking, which seems to have become the sporting orthodoxy despite my objections.

I know it's something of the paradigm in today's sports, and I admit, it can be entertaining at times. It also seems like from what I read sometimes gets people shot in similar circumstances that are not so organized.

This gets into the senior moment get-off-my-lawn territory, I understand. But who goes to work and screams at your coworkers about being better than they are? OK, maybe at the tech firms. But other than there?

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

There's plenty of competition at the job. People are every bit as competitive even if thousands behind them are not applauding or condemning their every move. It seems like if you know you're good it's enough to show it by performing better. Quaint, I know.

Since when is rubbing in your success a sign of sportsmanship?

Seems a bit like schadenfreude, which is just the perfect word even if it is German. It basically means there is not enough joy in just your success, that you also have to experience the misfortune of others. Sounds actually pretty American.

So when DeRozan and LaVine left the United Center floor with 12.1 seconds left Sunday after a Bucks 24-second violation with the Bulls then about to dribble out the clock—another unwritten rule I don't care for; let the other guys play—there was some pointing.

Hey, walking off! Walking off! They're not being a good sports. Walking off!

Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas, the Chicago-native and two-time NBA Champion, was the leader of the Bad Boy Pistons squad that is notorious for walking off the floor early following their Game 4 defeat in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.

It's perhaps a larger reminder in Chicago because of the way the city for years has celebrated and demeaned the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons for doing so after the Game 4 sweep in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. It looked worse because of the way the old Palace of Auburn Hills floor was situated. The home team had to walk in front of the visitors' bench to leave.

So the Pistons with the clock winding down were doing just as Zach and DeMar were as the teams stopped playing. The sports ethics police sprung into action, condemning the Pistons, which was an easy thing to do back then not only with the way they played but some of whom they had.

The NBA pretends it wasn't so, but back then the league endorsed the Pistons style of play. There was league sanctioned Bad Boys merchandise sold with welcoming commercials. Until it began to get really bad and boys not being boys, as it were, and being very bad, and the NBA decided it was horrified.

We all know, if not often acknowledged, that Jordan had his flaws. And justifiable anger toward the Pistons after all the years of frustration. And bruises. So after the Bulls won Game 3, Jordan spent his entire media session for almost an hour—yes, even the stars were like that then—deriding the Pistons, diminishing their accomplishments as a back-to-back champion at a time it wasn't done, and discrediting their abilities with multiple future Hall of Famers. With no internet back then, it wasn't until the next morning's newspapers on the way to the game the Pistons players read all that.

Those that could read, at least.

Now that's trash talking!

But not to their faces.

Jordan was mercenary getting into opponent's heads, and what better way than going into the sweep game.

So then they were supposed to congratulate Jordan and the Bulls? What would you have done if you were them?

That's pretty much when this post game custom seemed to have begun because no one wanted to be identified with those Pistons. I was at plenty of those Lakers, Celtics and Pistons series in the 80s. After Kevin McHale's takedown clothesline of Kurt Rambis and Robert Parish's punch out of Bill Laimbeer, I didn't see many post game hugs and dinner plans.

I know guys try hard and care. There's nothing wrong with being angry and depressed about not succeeding when you care that much.

I loved that DeRozan and LaVine felt that way. Those are the kinds of players I want on my team, or at least the one I look at.

I don't care for all the post game janky in the regular season, but it's January in Chicago and with the ice on the United Center floor for the Blackhawks you sometime need a hug if only for warmth.

But I like that they care so much in the playoffs. Look, the Bucks were shaming the Bulls, back-to-back lopsided home losses. And worse with all the expectations from the first playoffs in five years here. Not that the Bucks are a rub-it-in-group, and Giannis seems as nice and humble a guy as there is in the league. But there's nettlesome Grayson Allen beating the Bulls with his almost unerring shooting and Bucks players in a new rite booing to sort of mock the treatment Allen gets from Bulls fans from the Alex Caruso injury flagrant foul.

And once again despite all they'd accomplished in the regular season and all they have become and are in their impressive NBA careers, DeRozan and LaVine in this long anticipated series barely could even get on the court in the fourth quarters because the outcome was so long decided.

Not that it generated their behavior. But it should have been a celebratory moment because it could have been the last game of the 2021-22 season in Chicago. The fans came to love this team over a wonderful six-month adventure. But with the skewed score, many fans dispersed early and weren't there anymore to thank the players unless the series returns to Chicago for Game 6.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

So I understood Zach and DeMar.

After giving that much of yourself for so long and so hard and having so much pride and wanting to do so much for others in such a febrile atmosphere of anticipation and seeing that result, well, maybe another time is better to applaud your conquerers. It was what I would have done.

A kaleidoscope of emotions collided with a singular finality.

And why I'm also glad those guys are on the Bulls side. You're closer when your guys care that much.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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