The last time I relived an old Bulls game that I had recorded on VHS it was Michael Jordan’s first game back to New York City after his retirement, an event worthy of the record button. The next tape I slid into the VCR began with an ordinary game between Chicago and Dallas in Reunion Arena, and even though I am usually pretty good at remembering Bulls games, I could not remember any significance about the March 12, 1998 game against Dallas in Reunion Arena. It was a regular season game; Dallas was not very good, and, even though they were not playing well, the Bulls spent much of the game cruising comfortably ahead of the Mavericks. Once the game entered the 3rd quarter, I had resigned myself to not writing about it, but the bizarre (after reading this you might say tragic) ending led to some reflection that changed my mind about this experience and, for me, added some importance to an otherwise meaningless contest.
The 18,255 people, the most to ever watch a basketball game in Reunion Arena, represented the Bulls’ popularity in the 1990s. I watched and recorded this game 16 years ago on WGN. As a kid I loved Johnny “Redd” Kerr and Wayne Larrivee’s commentary, two men as much a part of my childhood as Michael Jordan. Whether it was Kerr referring to Scottie Pippen as “Pip” or Larrivee’s trademark “ring it up!” when a Bulls player made a 3 pointer, the memories their commentary dredged up kept me from prematurely hitting the eject button on the VCR.
Most of the game was uneventful. The Bulls weren’t playing well but maintained a comfortable lead for most of the game. It was 48-40 Chicago at halftime and less than 3 minutes into the 2nd half, Chicago had built a 58-43 lead on a 10-3 run. Dallas fought back and cut the lead to 6 with less than 3 minutes to play but the quarter ended with Chicago up 71-60. At this point I believed that the Bulls could, to use a Wayne Larrivee term, “sleepwalk” their way through one more quarter and with my thirst for nostalgia quenched, I began fighting the urge to hit the fast forward button to see what other old games awaited me on the other side of this Chicago blowout.
I understood why the 18-year old me recorded this game but what I could not grasp was why the 19-year old me did not record over it as soon as possible. “I can’t believe I didn’t replace this with a McGyver episode,” I thought as the game entered the 4th period. However, I had a strange feeling; I had an overwhelming sense that something bad was going to happen that did not go away as the Bulls built a 79-60 lead with 9 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Michael Jordan’s 3 pointer that extended the lead to 85-68 with under 6 minutes to play almost washed away the negative thoughts, but Scottie Pippen’s air ball at about the 4 minute mark suddenly reminded me why this game felt so strange. It was the type of game remote controls and breakable coffee table decorations fear the most.
It started at about the 3:30 mark after Jud Buechler hit a shot to put the Bulls up 89-74, which sent many in Reunion Arena to the exits. Two A.C. Green free throws and a Cederic Ceballos basket later the Bulls’ lead was 11 but the momentum shifted considerably at with 2 minutes to play when the Bulls were mistakenly called for a backcourt violation on a Scottie Pippen cross-court pass to Steve Kerr. The Bulls had complained about the officiating all night but the complaining turned to sulking and on the change of possession Hubert Davis hit a shot that cut the lead to 89-80.
The Bulls were up 90-80 with 1 minute to play after a Jordan free throw and from there they went cold and began turning the ball over which gave Dallas easy baskets. Chicago was 4 for 10 from the line in the quarter, Steve Kerr, with a smirk of disbelief, missed two consecutive free throws in a final minute in which Michael Jordan scored Chicago’s only point. In the final 15 seconds Hubert Davis hit a floater to make it 91-88 Bulls. What followed was a controversial 5-second call on Scottie Pippen inbounding the ball which gave possession back to Dallas, who up to that point, had missed all 5 of their 3 point attempts. However, with 10 seconds left Cedric Ceballos, who obviously paid no attention to history, hit one most spectacular shots I have ever seen to tie the game and cap off a 17-2 Dallas run in the final 3:19.
“And the Bulls have dug themselves a hole here in Dallas,” yelled Johnny Kerr over what was left of the Reunion Arena crowd. Dallas had all of the momentum going into overtime, and the Bulls themselves kept on digging. The extra period started with a 5-0 Dallas run that put the Bulls in a hole from which they could not climb. The rest was just icing on the cake for the Mavericks who went on to outscore Chicago 13-6 in OT to win 104-97, handing the Bulls their first loss in Dallas since November 1987. For the game Chicago shot 36%, hit only 14 of 26 free throws, and turned the ball over 6 times in the final period, but the last 8 minutes, which included overtime, were utter carnage as they were outscored 30-8.
I can’t remember if I broke a remote control 16 years ago while watching this game but when it ended this time I just starred at the television in disbelief. I thought about throwing the tape away, because why would anyone want to view this travesty again? However, after some reflection I concluded that what I had was actually something special: a game that should be seared in my memory, one already loaded with spectacular moments and great games. As time advances, the Bulls’ greatest games push themselves closer to the forefront of my consciousness. Every fan, including myself, focuses on the great games or most spectacular performances, such is human nature. We all have a selective memory, but for me, it comes at the price of my historical perspective and it’s something I fight against constantly. Admittedly, re-watching the Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals or reliving a legendary Michael Jordan performance is certainly more fun than watching them collapse in the last 3 minutes of a meaningless game in Dallas, but it’s part of the story. In 1998 the Bulls were the best in the NBA but March 12th was one of the many games that they were terrible, which to me makes this game as special as any I have recorded. So instead of throwing this game away I might watch it again because sometimes it’s useful to see that even at their best the Bulls could be really bad.
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