Blowing Up on the West Coast

Wennington in Portland
Chicago’s arrival in Portland coincided with the eruption of Mount St. Helens, located 55 miles north of the city.

(Courtesy of Bill Wennington)
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    March 15, 2005–Bill Wennington discusses an eventful and successful three-game swing through Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles in which Mount St. Helens erupted as the team touched down and the Bulls came close to returning home on the heels of a sweep. With 22 games remaining heading into Tuesday’s contest, Chicago clings to the East’s sixth seed with a win total as good as it has been since the MJ era.

    By Bill Wennington

    In the past few seasons, you could almost write off the chances of a victory when the Bulls trekked to the West Coast. That’s not the case anymore. In fact, if the team had not run out of gas in L.A. on Sunday, I believe they would have come home with a three-game sweep. Still, returning to Chicago with a couple wins and only one loss isn’t too shabby.

    We flew to Portland a day after the Bulls last home game, the win over Milwaukee last Monday. We departed for Portland the next day and ‘wow’ is all I can say. As we were landing, we flew over Mount St. Helens and there was a tiny little puff of steam over the top of the mountain (volcano), which they say is normal. I got a picture of it, thinking that that was that.

    Just a few minutes later, though, upon our arrival at the airport, the mountain erupted and shot a giant cloud of steam and ash into the sky. It was very impressive to say the least. It was reported that the cloud went up as high as 36,000 feet, just a small eruption compared to the big one back in 1981 that went as high as 65,000 feet. Still, it certainly isn’t something you see everyday, especially in Chicago and around the Midwest. Sometimes I take a little ribbing for carrying a camera around with me, but it was funny how everyone wanted to see the pictures of it, or wanted their picture with the cloud behind them…

    Moving on to the reason we were in Portland in the first place, the Bulls beat the Trail Blazers in a well-played match that saw the Bulls take advantage of a team that is having its own rebuilding problems. We are winning the games we are supposed to win. That is what good teams do, and the Bulls, as we know, are getting better.

    Next it was on to Seattle, where the team had a practice on Thursday and then the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the hospitality of the Pacific Northwest before their game with the Sonics. I can’t speak for all the players, but I know the broadcasters took full advantage of the hotel masseuse. Johnny “Red” Kerr even got down in the hot tub for a little rest and relaxation.

    Harrington and Brand in the post
    Othella Harrington and the Bulls nearly took down Elton Brand’s Clippers and returned home 3-0 from their West Coast trip.

    (Lisa Blumenfeld/NBAE/Getty Images)

    Walking around Seattle is great. The Market Place, which is famous for flying fish, is something you have to check out if you’re ever there. Watching the workers toss fish back and forth to each other upon the sale of any given fish, which may be a 20 pound salmon or bigger, is quite the sight. I took one of the Bulls PR assistants, Matt Yob, down to the Market for a peek at the fish. He enjoyed the view, but much preferred the dinner afterwards in which he got to eat a Neil Funk favorite: Bananas Fosters for dessert.

    The game, an extremely impressive win for Chicago, was quite eventful; there was some kind of scoring mishap in which the Bulls were awarded three too many points in a series of plays. At half time when the scoreboard showed the Bulls leading 56-53, the score really was 53-53. After a short delay, the referees said if the scorers could not find the mistake before the start of the fourth quarter the points would stand.

    Well, what you didn’t see from home was during the third quarter, when the stats crew was running around to find the mistakes that were made. We didn’t get a single stat report, which we usually get during time outs and at the end of each quarter, for the rest of the game. Apparently, they figured it out just in time, but in the end it didn’t matter as the Bulls held on for the victory.

    I must say this about the Seattle game: The D that Kirk Hinrich played on Sonics All-Star Ray Allen was one of the best displays of defensive tenacity that I have seen in a while. Kirk totally took Ray out of his game. Just another reason you should be watching or listening to every Bulls game…

    From Seattle it was southward to Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Tyson Chandler has family there, so this was a good time for him to visit with them and the friends he grew up with. The weather in L.A. was not as nice as it was in Seattle and Portland, which was sunny and in the 70’s. Los Angeles was cloudy and in the 60’s.

    Still, I was able to get out on a rented Harley Davidson and ride up the coast to Santa Monica. For a couple relaxing hours I drove through the hills which were very sunny, very hot and very beautiful. It was a great way to pass the time; boy, the more I think about it, this broadcasting stuff is really a lot of hard work. I may have to take a day off just to rest from my day off.

    The game against the Clippers did not go as well as the first two did. After fighting to get back into the game and then taking a fourth quarter lead, the Bulls ran out of gas in the last three minutes and fell victim to a late 9-2 Los Angeles run and lost.

    While it was a shame to lose a winnable game like that, if you had asked anyone what they would have been happy with before the trip, they’d have said one win would be great. Chicago got a pair and was disappointed in not getting all three. The expectations are growing and while that means the pressure is also rising, it’s also a good thing because this group clearly is not happy with losing.

    Allen and Hinrich battle in Seattle
    Hinrich kept Ray Allen in check, holding him to a 4-of-16 shooting performance as the Bulls captured one of their biggest wins this season.

    (Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty Images)

    One of the joys of playing afternoon games like the team did on Sunday is that you get home before 4 in the morning. This time we arrived back in Chicago from L.A. at 10 p.m. This meant that they could resume their normal routine the following day with practice, and get a normal night’s sleep.

    Let me see if I can get to a few e-mails before wrapping up; first up is a request from Kirk Walters:

    “I thought I would ask if you would send my greetings to one of my former math students and basketball players, Tyson Chandler. I was his 7th grade math teacher and 8th grade basketball coach at Arrowview Middle School in San Bernardino, CA. I now live in Washington D.C. and work for an educational research group. Tell Tyson that I say hello and will look for him the next time they play the Wizards.”

    Kirk, I’ll tell Tyson you said hello and as long as we are on the subject of Tyson, Samuel Strom asks:

    “When does Tyson crack the starting line-up? He has shown tons of improvement and seems to relish his bench role. But for the future, he is definitely starter material. Do you think Coach Skiles will experiment heading into the end of this season, or wait until next year to give T-Bone the nod?”

    To me, the topic of Tyson starting isn’t really an issue. He’s shown that he is definitely a game changer; his energy and rebounding can alter the game when he is inserted. I’ve said before that it is not who starts the game, but who finishes it that really counts.

    Bulls’ assistant coach Mike Wilhelm has told me that a bunch of his guys have been reading my column and thought it was pretty good. Well, guys, Mike said to say hi and that he is thinking about you all. Look what I just found from Luke Clark:

    “Thanks for keeping us fans on the East Coast up to date with the team. I have been friends with Assistant Coach Mike Wilhelm for a long time. In fact, I will be driving up to Boston in two weeks to see Mike and the Bulls. Being an assistant coach on any level is trying, but in the NBA it must be doubly so. Mike has a great disposition and is a tireless worker, so I am sure that he does a great job. Is it possible that you could mention Mike and the other assistants?”

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    There you have it! That’s about all for now; I hope you’re staying healthy and that you are eating right, because if you get sick and aren’t able to read this column, I don’t know if the Bulls will keep me on as a writer and who knows what they will have in store for me…

    Until next time, all the best to you!

    Send your questions and/or comments to Bill at and check back next week to see if he responds to your e-mail.

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  • Past columns: Things That Make You Go “Hmmm” (03.08.05) | Taking Care of Business (02.28.05) | Midterm Report Card (02.18.05) | Tough Times in Texas (02.10.05) | Man of the People: (02.02.05) | Thrown Under the Bus (01.25.05) | Team the Theme for Skiles’ Squad (01.18.05) | Wennington Column on the Way
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