The Chicago Bulls are a lot more similar to the Cleveland Cavaliers than you might think.
Oh, no, not this year’s version. Not any version in the recent past, and most likely not any version in the near future. No, right now the Cavs are one of the NBA’s elite while the Bulls are a guest body on CSI. They’re just here to further the story along for our favorite characters, like LeBron James.
Yes, right now and for the foreseeable future, the Cavs are a 60-win juggernaut and a marketing dream. As long as LeBron James is here, that is.
Which is where the Chicago Bulls come in?
The Bulls are still viewed as NBA royalty. Because of Michael Jordan the Bulls are viewed as one of the NBA’s premier franchises, a team whose return to glory is only a matter of time.
Only problem is that outside of Michael Jordan, the Bulls don’t have a glorified past. Which means they probably don’t have a glorified future. Really, the Bulls have been an irrelevant franchise for much of their existence.
Consider: take out the Jordan era (1984-1998) and the Bulls have played 29 seasons. In only nine of those years did the Bulls finish over .500. Nine out of 29 years. With Michael Jordan? Six NBA titles. Without Michael Jordan? They haven’t even won six playoff series. The Bulls have posted a 4-14 mark in playoff series without Jordan, never winning more than one series in a given season.
Take out the Jordan era and the Bulls have a 1,027 – 1,318 won-loss record. That’s a .437 winning percentage. That equates to 35 wins per season. That’s irrelevancy.
What does any of this have to do with the Cavaliers? Well, before LeBron the Cavs were 4-13 in playoff series. Only once did they win more than one playoff series in a season. That was in 1992 when they lost to the Jordan-led Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. And, in the 33 seasons before LeBron James joined the Cavs they were 1,172 – 1,502.
That’s a .438 winning percentage.
The Bulls without Jordan and the Cavs without LeBron have exactly the same history.
Fortunately for Cleveland fans, the teams don’t have the same present or the same future. We hope.
Where Jordan and LeBron differ is their connection to their cities. Jordan had nothing to do with the Bulls before joining them in 1984, and virtually nothing to do with them since leaving in 1998. He was really nothing more than a hired mercenary.
Jordan was born in Brooklyn, grew up in North Carolina, and attended college at the University of North Carolina. He joined the Bulls only because the Portland Trail Blazers made the mistake of drafting Sam Bowie over Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft. After retiring from the Bulls for a second time in 1999, Jordan came back to the NBA for a second time a year later, this time as part-owner of the Washington Wizards. Then he made his return to the court as a member of the Wizards for the 2001-02 season. After Jordan retired as a player for good after the 2002-03 season, he was fired from his management position with the Wizards. Now he’s back in the NBA as head of an ownership group of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Meanwhile, LeBron was born and grew up 40 miles south of Cleveland in Akron, has built a home between here and there, and has surrounded himself with his family and high-school friends since the day he arrived in the NBA. The only thing anyone can find to criticize LeBron about are his sports allegiances – he roots for the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, not the Indians and Browns.
Maybe the Cavs weren’t much before LeBron crashed the party. But they stand to be a whole lot while he’s here. That’s the other reason Dan Gilbert will do everything short of locking LeBron in the Q basement in order to keep The King here after his current contract expires. The Cavs are back to irrelevancy if LeBron leaves. The Cavs are back to being the Chicago Bulls if LeBron doesn’t sign a contract extension this summer.
And who wants to be the Bulls?