Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Walton Redux (or Rose's reality bites)

The Bill Walton picture was taken right after he checked out of that game against Philly on February 28, 1978.

This appears in the Monday, March 2, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

Walton redux (or Rose's reality bites)
by rick olivares 
(rose pic by sportsworld report/walton pic by nancy hogue)

When Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury, my first thought was, “Not again! Give the man a break for crying out loud!”

Then I thought of my Chicago Bulls that I have rooted for even when the old MJ Dynasty had come and gone. There were highs and there were a lot of lows. While they don’t look like they solid contenders they way they were in 2011-12, they nevertheless are solid with the addition of Pau Gasol to a potent crew that had Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Mike Dunleavy to name a few. In the light of Rose’s latest setback, the championship window that was open even slightly, looks to have closed even more now that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had found their groove.

Isn’t it ironic? For so long Michael Jordan tortured the Cavs and now they have their own #23 now killing the Bulls’ championship aspirations. My the worm sure has turned.

My third thought after Rose went down was… “I wonder… is this how Portland Trailblazers felt when Bill Walton went down with an injury during the 1978 Western Conference semifinals?” Oregonians felt like they had won the lottery were Walton was picked out of the grab bag of 1974. But almost immediately, Walton battled an assortment of ailments.

Even when he led the Trailblazers to a comeback victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 Finals, Walton didn’t play the entire season as he was in sickbay for a while. But Walton… was that darn good.

The Trailblazers looked like they were going to repeat as champions the following season as they went 50-10. Sadly, on February 28, 1978, Walton  checked himself out of the lineup because of chronic pain in his leg. Big Bill sat and Portland limped towards the playoffs, 8-14. The fiery redhead did come back against Seattle in semifinals but once he got knocked out with another injury, the Trailblazers were doomed. They were eliminated and Walton never played for Portland again.

In the late David Halberstam’s 1981 book about Walton’s Trailblazers, “The Breaks of the Game,” the author postulated the Blazers to be a team of destiny and a budding dynasty until injuries crippled Walton and he fought the front office over its treatment of its players.”

I feel the same way about the Bulls as they looked to have finally put together a cast to win its first NBA title of the post-Michael Jordan era. For a few years, they’ve had good teams where they looked imperious until they either ran into James’ teams or the Washington Wizards in the playoffs. Without a 100% Rose, they increasingly look like road kill for another team come playoff time.

Some might say that Rose’s case might be closer to Anfernee Hardaway’s or even Grant Hill’s cases with a litany of injuries that robbed them of their blinding speed and athleticism that was so crucial to their games. I might agree if we are talking about athleticism and yes, Rose is known for his explosiveness and ability to race down courts at breakneck speed. Yet factually, it was Shaquille O’Neal who made Orlando dangerous.

Case in point, when he went to Los Angeles, he took his championship aspirations with him to the Lakers. And not soon later to the Miami Heat.

As for Hill and the Pistons… it took another group of ground and pound players, modern-day Bad Boys, to win another title. And it certainly looks like the death-defying high flyers aren’t in Detroit’s blue collar DNA.

The one thing that Rose has in common with Walton as opposed to the other two is – they were both feted a Most Valuable Player Award very early in their careers; hence my comparison.

Another incident – although this might be coincidental and a stretch – is that Rose suffered his latest setback last February 24 (Walton went on February 28 in 1978).

The game after Walton was out, Portland lost to New York, 128-117.

And the first game they played after the shocking announcement of Rose’s latest setback, they lost to Charlotte (the team owned by former Bulls great Jordan), 98-86.

When Rose went out with a knee injury against Philadelphia during the first round of the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs the Bulls lost three of the next four.

If that doesn’t underscore the importance of Rose as a franchise player, I don’t what else can.

While this current season is far from over, the Bulls, do not look overwhelming favorites to win the NBA title at 37-22. There is a sliver of hope that Rose will be back late this season and perhaps in time for the playoffs. But even he does come back, how good can he be after all those multiple injuries? How will this latest injury affect the Bulls?

As a team, there is the mental fatigue of one long lost season after another with the promise of winning a NBA title evaporating into thin air. Does the cast stay, say Jimmy Butler who is a free agent after this season? Or does the promise of winning a title by playing alongside LeBron James or going to the San Antonio Spurs prove for attractive to other possible other free agents?

Walton came back in time to rejoin Portland for the playoffs in 1978. He played the first two games but clearly wasn’t the same as both teams splitting the matches. Whether he was 100% or not, after Walton went on the shelf following Game Two the Blazers were sunk; losing three of the next four.

And to this day, Portland has not won another championship (despite having gone to the finals on two other occasions with Clyde Drexler leading them).

As for the Bulls? It’s hard to wax optimistic because reality bites. But I’ll hold that thought until this season is done.

Now hopefully, even as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Dan Cahill believes it to be otherwise, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls… aren’t done.

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