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Austin Chronicle Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton

AUGUST 3, 1998:  It's a pathetic sight, really. The tents have long ago been pulled up. The ringmaster's drunk. The lion tamer has quit the show. The circus, after a long and tumultuous run, has left town. The star of the show, a multitalented man who could charm bears and strike fear into the tigers, a man skilled enough to perform on the high trapeze with the best of the flying men and humble enough to tear tickets at the gate, the greatest performer the circus had ever known, has become petulant and silly. The children of the world don't seem to understand that the famous plot of ground, not long ago a place of wonder, is now only an empty and barren hardscrabble patch, where the Midwestern wind blows paper cups and old programs across its vast space. I went to an Elvis concert once. They really did say he'd left the building. Still, everyone hung around, thinking this time, maybe, he'd come back. He never did. Elvis had the sense to know the show was getting old. Better to leave them with a smile.

I wish the media would do what they're supposed to be doing, writing tough, hard-hitting pieces on five-on-five drills, instead of creating a story, replete with miscast villains and pure-as-the-driven-snow heroes, to lead off their shows.

Add the rise of CNN and ESPN, where 24-hour programming demands something - anything - be "reported," to last week's list of the worst things in the world. Through the entire 1997-'98 basketball season, it was a given this was to be the last year of the Bulls, as we've known them. Every game was a monster sell-out, as people came out to see this team, and Jordan in particular, act out, as MJ repeatedly called it, "The Last Dance."

Phil Jackson has been saying, since last summer, that nothing was going to get him to return for another year. Jordan's been saying, for just as long, that he wouldn't play for another coach. Tim Floyd, an obscure 12-18 coach from Iowa State, has been just as often reported to be Jackson's successor, though why, God only knows. Scottie Pippin, carrying a bitter grudge against Chicago management, said he'd never put on his uniform again. And so it was understood that, when the next NBA campaign commenced, there would be no more Chicago Bulls, at least as the noun is commonly understood to exist.

Yet, as these events unfolded, each exactly as it was foretold, the media affected an innocent, "Holy shit, can you believe this is happening" air. The saturation of my-o-my coverage of what was a foregone conclusion causes each of the players in the drama to act out the role the media's crowned them with. The villains (media-created): two puffy, white, nerdy looking boys to give the lazy public an easy target. "The Jerrys" are forced to concoct a ludicrous, transparent scheme, "leaving the door open" for a coach who's uninterested and unwanted. It forces Floyd into an even worse situation than he's already in; to play the demeaning role of a kinda, maybe coach. The organization looks even sillier, which is how the media wrote the script. Jordan's the misunderstood hero being "forced" out the door of the game he loves by the bad old Jerrys. Jackson plays his accustomed role of the bemused professor.

Oliver Stone's JFK is a well-researched documentary compared to this rapidly revised history. Six championships in eight years, yet the Chicago front office (the Jerrys) is lampooned as an incompetent Mutt and Jeff franchise. Maybe you can find me a more successful franchise in some other city? The City of Losers should be erecting shrines to these guys, not tossing eggs at them. Krause was alone for years in the dogged pursuit of the best basketball player in Europe, Tony Kukoc. Jordan and Pippin didn't want Tony. Like spoiled brats, they made that very clear. Yet the last two titles would not have happened without Kukoc. The signing of Rodman was a brilliant and controversial move. The late-season acquisition of Brian Williams won a title. Mix in perfectly cast, effective, egoless role players. Villains? What did they do so wrong, except wisely refuse Jackson the kind of executive power almost no coach has succeeded with? Pippin signed a long-term contract, that he desperately and very publicly demanded, which, as the years passed, would badly underpay him. He was warned at the time he'd be hurt by a long contract. No gun was at his head. Were the Bulls wrong to hold him to what he demanded? Now the Bulls are making a business decision, with many of the circumstances forced on them, to let it end. Hasn't the incredible success of the franchise earned them that respect? It has with me.

I said my farewells on that improbable June night. The Jerrys aren't being derelict to the fans of Chicago by not doing everything possible to keep the team intact. Jordan's still great, but clearly slipping. Rodman's close to finished. Pippin's showing obvious signs of wearing down. Everything must end. Good things too. I've said goodbye. I'm ready to move on. Bulls management has too. But our all-powerful mass media, as always, strives with 100% success to hit the lowest common denominator within the American public.

Had electronic media been present at the Inquisition, I assure you many, many more people would have been burned at the stakes.


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