I sat down to what promised to be an important early season matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in my “Best of my Lifetime” super league using the Statis Pro Basketball system. Chicago, despite having arguably the best player ever on their roster in Michael Jordan, had stumbled out of the gate to an 0-3 start. Meanwhile, the Pacers were 4-0, looking every bit like a title contender.
In a real NBA league, these are the games you would expect Jordan to rise to the occasion, the referees to look the other way on a few calls, and the popular Bulls to manage a much needed win.
Chicago 95, Indiana 144.
Clearly that wasn’t the case. What was the case in the Chicago’s ignominious performance was both how replays can never replicate the real thing but also why replays how such a strong appeal to some.
The game itself was almost never in doubt. Jordan, the one player you would never suspect to be in foul trouble, was whistled for two quick fouls in the first quarter. He came back only to whistled again and ended the first half with just 12 minutes of playing time. It was the Pacers who were the beneficiaries of the ref’s whistle, shooting 29 free throws to the Bulls’ 10. Had this been an actual game, a game where a preeminent team like the Bulls, with their equally preeminent player in Jordan, would be expected to find a way to win what was a crucial game. Instead, the Bulls fell flat. Jordan finished with a respectable 23 points but got little help elsewhere. His long time court mate, Scottie Pippen, went 4-14 from the field, and Chicago’s bench was outscored 64-38.
Replays won’t always get you the result you’d expect. They don’t measure a player’s ability in the clutch, favoritism some teams get from the officials, or the affect of momentum.
But this isn’t a bad thing.
Replays are a what-if scenario. Not unlike war games, replay sports gives us a chance to see how things could have been different. What if the starting center hadn’t gotten injured? What if they used a different rotation? Worked the ball down low more often? The point of replays is never to completely copy a season or situation but to reinvent it.
Now, as for the replay, why are these Bulls so bad? They start Jordan, Pippen, an MVP season Derrick Rose, rebounding beast Dennis Rodman, and a more than capable Artis Gilmore at center. Well, in a super start league, the Bulls really lack any real depth. Only Jimmy Butler managed to make any contribution to the game. Without him, the bench was a woeful 10 for 32 from the field. Rodman, while a menace on the glass, is a offensive liability. When games average 125 points, Rodman reduces the Bulls offensive options greatly. Their current 0-4 record may be a little harsh. After all, the Bulls have lost to four teams that are a combined 15-4 early in the season. Three of their games have been on the road. There’s certainly hope, and Jordan, Pippen, and Rose should be talented enough to make Chicago competitive the rest of the way. Still, when Chicago has met a challenge, they have yet to deliver.
But what about those Pacers? 5-0 now, but they do come against teams that are currently 9-12. Still, the Pacers start three Hall of Fame players and bring another of the bench thanks to their ABA ties. With Mel Daniels and George McGinnis anchoring the paint, Reggie Miller has been free to be himself, overachieving to the tune of 29 points per game, including 32 in the win against Chicago. The Pacers can run deep and be assured of losing little offense while maintaining adequate defensive pressure.
As the season continues, it’s a guarantee that neither will continue their current trend. Indiana has yet to play any current division leader, and the Bulls haven’t player the league’s softer teams yet. Their early starts do come somewhat unexpected.