Not to offend fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks, but the Eastern Conference Finals is the REAL NBA Finals this year. The winner of the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat series will likely win the title. Exactly like in 2007, when you knew the winner of the Western Conference Semifinals between the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns would go on to win the whole thing (And they did).
The Bulls and Heat are two teams that cleared the deck and threw open the doors last summer for biggest free agency period in league history. They are the two teams in the Eastern Conference that improved themselves the most. At Bulls media day, I grew tired and weary of journalists asking the players and coaches about Miami and specifically “can this team really compete with Miami?” So it’s only fitting that these two squads meet in the end.
The journey from the de fact Heat media day last September in Deerfield, IL to now is complete. And the most important player in this series is one of the hometown stars, Dwyane Wade.
By Paul M. Banks
Wade is the only superstar (or even star or major contributor) who has won a NBA title in this series. He’s the only one out of the Heat’s big three and Chicago’s Derrick Rose who’s been to the mountain top. He’s also the Heat’s alpha dog, the guy who will take the last shot, and it’s “his team.” So he’s quite crucial to the series outcome, to say the least.
Wade is from Robbins, a south suburb of Chicago and possibly the poorest town in the entire state of Illinois. he was bused in high school, and prepped at Harold L. Richards high in Oak Lawn, IL. He grew up a Bulls fan, and was asked what his favorite piece of Bulls merchandise was growing up.
“I wasn’t fortunate enough really to have that stuff,” Wade said.
“My favorite piece was just being in Chicago and being proud to be able to watch the Chicago Bulls on WGN, and the rest of the world could see them as much as me. That was the favorite thing, just to be proud to say I was a Chicago Bulls fan and Michael Jordan fan. I felt like it was personal. Like I knew the guy, although I didn’t.”
And you can’t talk about Chicago basketball without mentioning MJ, and the impact he’s had on the game across generations.
“Even though MJ wasn’t from Chicago, he made you feel like, just like a lot of kids think I’m from Miami when you’re growing up. It just made you want that. You wanted to be great like that. You wanted to do some of the things off the court that he did. So when you went in the backyard, when you went to the gym, whether you watched “Come and Fly With Me” before you go, whatever you do, you’re going out and emulating that person. You’re imitating him.”
“And that’s what I did. I’m sure it’s what D?Rose did. You know, it’s funny, kids today are still doing it. Jordan has not been playing for a while. He’s just been an inspiration to the game.”
Wade and the Heat have plenty of experience playing against Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau and his schemes, from Thibs’ days as a Boston Celtics assistant.
“It is similar. You have to be patient. It’s hard to attack on the front side of the defense because they load on the strong side,” Wade said of the Bulls current schematics.
“So you have to be able to get the ball from one side to another and attack their defense. They have a lot of athleticism. So you have to be patient.”
It’s a job, not a homecoming dance/parade for Wade right now. He was asked if he relishes the chance to play on the biggest stage, when the biggest stage is his hometown’s supreme court. A court he played all-star games on.
“Right now it’s a business. I’m trying to get somewhere, do something. Maybe one day I’ll look at it and see how special it is. I’m just trying to approach it like it’s just another role game and not get into the hometown thing. Obviously, I don’t want to lose to my hometown team. Obviously.”
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