By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The field on the western end of Kennedy Park on Chicago’s South Side is an uneven stretch of dirt and various weed infestations that would make for a bad lawncare commercial with an annoying Scotsman. The corners of the gridiron stretch into baseball diamonds, giving the terrain a feel like the Oakland Coliseum, only with a greater risk of death.
Nourishing the roots of the crabgrass is decades worth of blood, sweat and tears that the casual eye can’t see. And if you listen very carefully, you can faintly hear the echoes of a 34 Double Lead call, “The Pony Soldiers” by Sam Spence, and requests to go to the bathroom.
In four years of grade school football, my St. Cajetan Warriors never lost a game on that home field. My dynasty involved a mere two regular-season losses total, at St. Michael’s in Orland Park where those rich kids could afford knee pads and at St. Christina in Mt. Greenwood where a running back might wear steel-toe Dr. Martens and cover his jersey in fiberglass.
(And like any football dynasty worth its orange slices, we won a championship and then were banned the following year from the postseason for recruiting violations and doctoring of paperwork. Seriously. Haters gonna hate.)
None of the Black and Gold Machine teams since I retired has gone undefeated at Kennedy Park in a season. My team’s four-year record stands little chance of being broken. And somewhere deep in my heart, I’m glad, and my ego wishes misfortune on future grade school teams that would even dare to approach my dynasty.
But I’m as rational as I am animal. A record that stays forever is a museum piece. It’s a fossil. We progressive sports fans need rejuvenation, new blood. Barry Bonds –frankenbody, abrasiveness and all — was compelling television as he chased 71 and 756, just as Roger Maris, Hank Aaron and Mark McGwire fascinated the world when their records were set.
Chicago Bulls fans — as if the garbage bag of dead kittens the 2015-’16 season has been wasn’t enough — are feeling the prick to their pride after the modern day Golden State Warriors improved to 72-9 on Sunday night to tie the 1995-’96 Bulls team that went 72-10 for the most regular-season wins in history. The Warriors can break the record Wednesday night with a home win against the Grizzlies.
This reaction is understandable. We tend to define our rooting interests in records and impressive stats, and if that 72-10 Bulls team becomes statistically secondary, so do then the fans by irrational transitive property of sports.
But it’s time to let go. This is a new NBA with replenished youth and vigor. Despite the otherwise compelling basketball with teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the operatic Cleveland Cavaliers, this Warriors run is undeniable joy.
If Golden State wins 73, so be it. Even Michael Jordan isn’t going to cry about it (see what I did there?). He actually wants the Warriors to break the record, according to Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“Mike told me at All-Star, ‘Go win the record. Go get the record. If y’all don’t win this record, I’m going to be hot and I’m blaming you,’” Green said.
Game recognizes game. And clinging to a 20-year-old stat or team isn’t only petty but a symptom of the disease fans suffer when their favorite team hasn’t won anything since (see: Chicago Bears fans).
Besides, the debate will still rage on over which team is better, which is in some ways problematic, what with comparing teams from different eras being an exercise in uselessness and impossibility and all. And if in your heart of hearts you’ll always know the ‘96 Bulls would whoop these Warriors’ collective tail (and they would), let that be the bigger feather in your foam-horned hat. With those Bulls feasting on today’s different rules, who would cover Jordan and Scottie Pippen while both were on the court, etc? All are decent points in a dumb barstool or panel show argument, but consider the non-basketball aspects.
Last week Pippen and Ron Harper sat down with Gary Payton in an piece for Uninterrupted. Regarding 70 wins (the record prior to 1996), Pippen said, “We never really bought into that record. Our lifestyle (laughing) was not trying to challenge that record.”
See, the Bulls did their thing while drunk. Jordan had casino chips falling out of his shorts, and Dennis Rodman seemingly played at least five games on ecstasy.
The Twitter age has the Warriors on their best behavior. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can’t be at a club at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning with a national TV game later that afternoon. Imagine the coded racism from 1996’s equivalent of Mark Schlereth had there been social media to show on a whim our psychological cards about how uncomfortable Rodman made the national media.
Yes, Draymond Green knows how to party when allowed, but give him one night out with ‘96 Rodman, and Green’s probably still in a Tijuana jail. John Salley was a Bull that year, too, and he still hasn’t sobered up.
But superstars alone don’t a champion make. The unsexy names might not win games, but they are certainly crucial to titles. The Bulls reign supreme there, too.
Luc Longley would beat Andrew Bogut down in a giant kangaroo fistfight. People forget that Longley would throw down.
Plus, Bogut broke his own arm while dunking once.
James “Buddha” Edwards isn’t letting a teammate prank him into thinking he got cut. There’d be some size-18 shoes finding their way in an uncomfortable place in Andre Iguodala, let me tell you.
Has a single Warrior punched Steve Kerr, by the way? Because Jordan did, and had he not, Kerr would have never have hit the 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. It’s science.
And the Bulls had original recipe Kerr, not bad-back Die Hard 2 villain Kerr. That can never be taken away.
So let the Warriors have this fun, Bulls fans. And it is fun.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.