By George Ofman-
(CBS) Do you know who these Bulls remind me of? It’s the 1976-77 Bulls.
Let me take you back to 1977, an extraordinarily exciting yet just as disappointing season for the city. The Cubs were 25 games over .500 in late June and in first place in late July. So were the White Sox, Bill Veeck’s rent-a-team that would go on to be dubbed, “The South Side Hit Men.”
And it was the year that Sox organist Nancy Faust introduced us to, “Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye!” The Bears would win their final six games of that season after starting 3-5 and make the playoffs on an overtime field goal by Bob Thomas, who would go on to become Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Alas, the Bears lost in the first round of the playoffs, The Sox were caught by the red hot Kansas City Royals and finished third and the Cubs would swoon going 20-40 in the final two months and finish .500.
But those Bulls captured the city’s imagination. They weren’t supposed to be good, let alone playoff good. The 1975-76 team crumpled to a 24-58 mark. Dick Motta quit and assistant Ed Badger took over. But the team had a new look. Along with holdovers Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, Norm Van Lier and Tom Boerwinkle, the Bulls got the first pick in the special dispersal draft after the American Basketball Association merged with the National Basketball Association and they selected All-Star center Artis Gilmore. Scott May was the team’s second pick in the regular draft arriving from the undefeated Indiana Hoosiers. And then there was little Wilbur Holland, who begged the Bulls to sign him as a free agent.
But May and reserve forward Jack Marin came down with mononucleosis and Sloan couldn’t recover from knee surgery. The Bulls won two of their first three games, then proceeded to lose 13 straight. Badger was under fire as was Gilmore for not being the player he was with the old Kentucky Colonels. But the season leveled off and the Bulls played .500 ball until late February.
Then the love affair began. And the, “Miracle Madhouse on Madison Street” was born. This was a team you wanted to root for, a team you simply had to embrace. These Bulls were underdogs, the way the current Bulls are.
Starting with a victory over Golden State before only 8,127 fans at the old Chicago Stadium, the Bulls began a remarkable run that brought the city to a frenzy and the sports nation at attention. They went on seven-game winning streak and after a loss, began another winning streak of eight games.
Attendance at the Stadium swelled. The place wasn’t just full, it was jumping. And on the night of March 22in a game against the Lakers I happened to attend, the attendance was announced at 21,046 screaming zealots packed into a building whose decibel leveled reached ear-piercing proportions. During that glorious run, fans who could only listen to the games on radio (or preferred to do so) were treated to mesmerizing voice of the great Jim Durham, whose dramatic call of each game simply enhanced this unlikely charge. And his sidekick was Johnny Kerr, the first coach in Bulls history. Durham and Kerr teamed up to bring to life this scintillating surge.
This is when Kerr gave the stadium its endearing moniker, “The Miracle Madhouse on Madison Street.” The Bulls wound up finishing the regular season on a 20-4 run. The fans were ready for a showdown with Bill Walton and the Portland Trailblazers, a team that also got hot down the stretch winning its last six games.
Back then, the first round of the NBA playoffs was a best-of-three. The Bulls lost the first game at Portland, held on to win the second game at the Stadium, but lost the third back in Portland. The Trailblazers would go on to win the title, while the Bulls and their growing legion of fans were left demoralized after a spectacular three-month run.
Maybe these Bulls will go on a similar, yet shorter, journey. Either way, they will be remembered for their hustle, desire and will to overcome, just the way the 76-77 Bulls did.
George Ofman is a sports anchor and reporter for WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9FM. Look for him on Facebook and find him on Twitter at @georgeofman.