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Top 10 Moments In Chicago Sports In 2008

Posted by sportsmaven on January 17, 2009

The new year has already started and amidst the resolutions, fresh starts, diets, and new beginnings comes the ever reverent look back at the year that has passed.  The year 2008 was a banner year for Chicago sports, as three teams won their prospective division titles, and one, the Chicago Wolves won a championship.  There was good, bad, ugly, and everything in between for Chicago sports fans.  So, lets take a look back on the Top 10 Moments in Chicago Sports in 2008 (in no particular order):
Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears goal line stand against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 — The Chicago Bears were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20, Eagles had first and goal from the Bears 4, 5:40 left in the game.  Eagles run RB Cornell Buckhalter off right tackle for 3 yards.  Second and goal was a handoff to FB Tony Hunt for no gain.  Third down was back to Buckhalter to the right for no gain.  Eagles call a time out and decide to go for it on 4th down.   Buckhalter again off left tackle, this time, stood up by RE Alex Brown of the Bears for no gain.  Game over.  Bears win.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano throws no-hitter against the Houston Astros on Sept. 14th —  The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros waited two long days to find out where they would be playing their key late season series against each other.  Houston was being devestated by Hurricane Ike and MLB moved the Astros to “neutral” Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Cubs.  Zambrano brought his “A” game with him to “Wrigley North”, shutting down the powerful Astros lineup, striking out CF Darrin Erstad swinging for the last out of the first Cubs no-hitter in 36 years.

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Cubs win back to back NL Central Division titles — The Cubs began the 2008 season with one of it’s goals to win the 2008 NL Central Division title, as well as seeking their first World Series appearance since 1945 and first World Championship since 1908.  Alas, the Cubs could only slay one 100 year drought, as they won an NL-best 97 games en route to the 2008 NL Central Division title for their  first back to back division titles since 1908.  A quick sweep in the NL Divisional Series by the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers dimmed what was to that point, a most magical season for the North Siders.

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

White Sox win 3 elimination games in a row to win the AL Central title — The Chicago White Sox looked dead in the water, losing  4 of their final 5 games to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, coughing up a 2.5 game division lead and falling 1/2 game behind the Twins with one game to play.  The final game of the Cleveland series and the regular season was a must win game with Mark Buehrle on the bump, the Sox beat the Indians to force the Monday afternoon post-season makeup game against the Detroit Tigers.  The Sox win the makeup game against the Tigers, forcing a one game playoff game against the Twins for the AL Division title, this time, in Chicago.   The Sox, behind a masterpiece by LHP John Danks, beat the Twins 1-0 and claim the AL Central Division title, winning three elimination games in a row.

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

Chicago Bulls win the 1st pick in the NBA Draft and the right to select PG Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson had to work wonders to undo all the bad karma and decision-making by Bulls brass in the post-Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era, but by sheer luck,  one of those bouncing ping-pong ball went red, and the Bulls, with a x% chance, landed the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.  Around the same time, a young freshman PG from Chicago was leading his one-loss  Memphis Tigers team to the 2008 National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks win the title, the young freshman forgoes his eligibility and declares eligible for the NBA Draft and the prodigal son returns a hero.

The City of Chicago becomes a finalist for host city for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games — Chicago survived the US bid process to emerge as the US entry for host of the 2016 Olympics.  Election Night provided the world a glimpse of what Chicago 2016 could be as Grant Park served as the world’s stage for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election night speech.  Chicago is President Obama’s hometown and can be in prime position to be named 2016 host, but it can’t rest on that momentum as concerns about finances, transportation infrastructure, and sports facilities still shroud Chicago’s Olympic bid chances.

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

The arrival of a young and resurgent Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, who finished  the 2007-08 season very strong and opened the 2008-09 season even stronger — the Chicago Blackhawks under owner Bill Wirtz became the city’s red headed stepchild of Chicago professional sports.  Even the minor league AHL hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing the Hawks in attendance.  Things couldn’t have been any lower, and then, Bill Wirtz died.  Bill’s son Rocky took the team over and his first move as team owner was to steal marketing genius John McDonough away from the Cubs, hiring McDonough as his new team president.  A change in coaches (Joel Quenneville in, Denis Savard out), a #1, and #3  draft pick later, youngsters C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane lead a marketing and on-ice resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks.  High point to date, a team best 9 game winning streak leading into the 2009 Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.  The game resulted in a loss for the Blackhawks in the standings, but was a HUGE win for the Hawks in prestige and heritage.  A vintage Original Six team is reborn.

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Bears hammer Indianapolis Colts on national TV in the season opener, marking the coming out party for Bears RB Matt Forte and ruining the home opening of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium — The Chicago Bears were playing on national television.  They were also playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts on the road in the Colts brand spanking new stadium.  The Bears have traditionally been nothing short of horrible in nationally televised night games and this was Sunday Night Football on NBC.  And QB Peyton Manning, coming off a knee injury, was planning on starting this game. The Bears were doomed, but fate forgot to mention that to this Bears team, lead by a resurgent defense and the nimble running of rookie RB Matt Forte, the only Bear to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first ever game (123 yards), the Bears down the mighty Colts 29-13.

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

The University of Illinois football team plays in it’s first Rose Bowl since 1984 — In 2001, the University of Illinois football program was reaching it’s pinnacle capped by a Big Ten Conference Championship and an appearance in the 2002 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  Two short years later, the Illini hit rock bottom, going 1-11, eventually firing coach Ron Turner and hiring master recruiter Ron Zook as his replacement.  In year 3 of the rebuilding process, the Illini found themselves with a 9-4 record, stunning #1 Ohio State on the road in a 28-21 victory that propelled the team to it’s first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, bringing a hockey title back to Chicago — The Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team beats the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 bringing the Calder Cup back to Chicago.  It is the 4th title for the Wolves in their 14-year history.  Soon after, Wolves Coach John Anderson is promoted to coach the parent team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves dip into a famous Chicago hockey family, tapping Don Granato as their new head coach.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Fighting Illini | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Living The American Dream

Posted by sportsmaven on June 30, 2008

Magnus Midtvedt was a foreign exchange student from just outside Oslo, Norway. Magnus was also a student that lived in our home since the last week of August in 2007. Today, Magnus went home to Norway, 10 months after arriving in the United States and the Chicago suburbs as a young, quiet, shy boy from Scandinavia.

I have been waiting to write about Magnus all year, mostly because I wanted to fully experience the wholeness of hosting an exchange student before putting it to words, but watching Magnus pack for his journey home brought back the memories that he has lived since the day he arrived in the International Terminal at O’Hare Airport last August.

Magnus arrived to the shores of Lake Michigan alone and unassuming. He was very much a young boy, traveling half way around the world to embark on a journey we all knew would be special, but yet he was to begin this journey alone, and amongst strangers. He was brave and courageous to do this on his own, but Magnus had a dream to play basketball in the US and Northbrook, Illinois is where it was to happen for him.

Basketball in Norway is a fledgling sport, still very much at the grass roots level, meaning not very advanced. As a young boy, Magnus fell in love with basketball and with Michael Jordan while watching the movie, Space Jam. Little did he realize that in a few short months, he would be living his American Dream.

Every young boy has dreams of being a schoolboy sports hero, whether on the gridiron or the court. In Magnus’ case, it would be the hardwood of the basketball court. Magnus worked countless hours in our backyard basketball court with the hopes of just making the Glenbrook North High School basketball team. Not only did Magnus make the team, but he developed into one of the best shooters on the team, parlaying that into valuable playing time off the bench and a remarkable run into the state playoffs in a magnificent season of American high school basketball.

Magnus’ shining moment was in the Proviso West Holiday Basketball Tournament this past December. Glenbrook North was scheduled to play Whitney Young, a local powerhouse and a top contender for the Class AA state basketball championship. One of Whitney Young’s top players was G Marcus Jordan, the son of Magnus’ basketball idol. The game was broadcast on Comcast Sports Net, the local sports cable television outlet. Sitting in the stands behind the Glenbrook North bench was perhaps the best player ever to play the game of basketball, Michael Jordan. Magnus entered in the 4th quarter of a one sided game, where he proceeded to hit a 3 pointer in front of his hero and idol. Michael acknowledged the moment with a little fist pump and Magnus was in heaven. There could be no better moment to witness someone living the dream of their lifetime. I was proud to be present to witness such an accomplishment, but also humbled and thankful to experience the rare and wonderful moment of a dream fulfilled.

That moment happened over 7 months ago, and it was one of many, many moments that Magnus has experienced in his brief stay as a member of our household. In my eyes and heart, that was the one moment that will forever define our experience with Magnus. As the parade of newly made friends came to say their goodbyes this afternoon, I watched the completion of the development and maturation of a young man, a boy no longer.

As I walked Magnus to the security line at the airport and said my goodbye, I felt a large part of my existence for the last year was leaving with him. I have to admit that it was a difficult moment for both of us, but more difficult that I would have thought for me. As I watched Magnus go though the security line, I noticed how American he had become – wearing the basketball shirt, the baggy jeans shorts that kept falling down as he took off his belt to go through the metal detector, to hearing one of his favorite new American sayings “my bad”.

As Magnus gathered his belongings from security, he took one look back, waved bye to me, and walked around the corner to his new life, a life of unlimited potential and dreams fulfilled, with many new dreams to follow.

Posted in High School/Prep Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Five Reasons Why Derrick Rose Is The Right Pick For The Chicago Bulls

Posted by sportsmaven on June 29, 2008

Moments before the start of the 2008 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls had still not given any guidance as to the direction they were going with the #1 pick. Most experts agreed that Memphis G Derrick Rose would be the Bulls choice, but the Bulls did a great job of keeping Kansas State F Michael Beasley in the picture and when NBA Commissioner David Stern walked to the podium to announce the pick, I was uncertain who the Bulls wrote on the card in the commish’s hand.

In the end, Derrick Rose was the right pick for the Bulls for the following reasons:

1. The NBA is evolving into a more perimeter controlled game. Ballhandlers and penetrators are at a premium. Derrick Rose was the best of the perimeter players in this year’s draft. Rose can score, pass, rebound if needed, and play defense. He is unselfish almost to a fault. Rose can penetrate, get to the basket, and finish once he gets there. He still needs to work on his outside shot, particularly his 3-point shooting, and even Rose himself has acknowledged that, but his inside/outside game now is quite potent and will only get exponentially better with time.

2. Derrick Rose is the most competitive player in this year’s draft. His will to win is something not seen in Chicago Bulls basketball since Michael Jordan. In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Rose was asked to describe himself. His response: “An unselfish guard who’s willing to do anything to win. I mean, anything.” Very focused, very precise. His will to win is enormous. This is a kid that cried after losing AAU games. Willing to do anything to win and hates losing? These are qualities that are sorely lacking for anyone currently on the Bulls roster.

3. Derrick Rose’s work ethic and leadership is second to none. Rose has been heralded as the hardest worker in this year’s draft. Again, in a recent Chicago Tribune article on Rose, his work ethic has been described as follows:

“Last summer, shortly after Rose arrived at Memphis, Calipari received a report that Rose’s knee was hurting him. Why would his knee be bothering him already, Calipari wondered.

The answer: Rose was toiling in the gym for six hours at a time. It might have been the first time in recorded history that a coach asked an elite player to stop working so hard.”

Rose is willing to dedicate whatever time is necessary to be the best. All great leaders start by leading by example. Rose is soft spoken, but his actions will speak louder than words. Over time, the words will be there, but Rose may already be the hardest worker on the Bulls roster and he has yet to attend a practice, much less play a game.

4. The home town hero scenario was too good to be true – on the day of the NBA Draft Lottery, the Chicago Bulls had a 1.7% chance of winning the #1 pick. Fate ran it’s course and the Bulls somehow defied odds and were put in position to draft the most dynamic player in this year’s draft. That player so happened to be from Chicago, so a hometown hero in the making.

Many critics point to C Eddy Curry and his inability to succeed with the pressure of playing in your hometown as a reason why the Bulls should have bypassed Derrick Rose. That logic makes absolutely no sense to me. It has nothing to do with playing in your hometown. It has everything to do with heart and character, and Derrick Rose has more heart and character than Eddy Curry. That alone will make the difference. The question of Derrick feeling pressure playing at home was handled deftly on the night of the draft:

His mom Brenda downplayed the notion that playing in Chicago will put more pressure on her son, telling ESPN: ‘‘He’s used to playing in Chicago.’’

The Rose family has handled Derrick professionally with great foresight of the potential of playing in Chicago for the Bulls. They have taught Derrick to handle pressure. This is a support system that Eddy Curry lacked.

5. Derrick Rose’s heart is in Chicago – he will also be the heart of professional basketball in Chicago for years to come. One day, Mr. Rose will be known only as Derrick, like the other great Bull, Michael. The heart of a championship team has walked in the door of the House That Michael Built. If Derrick Rose continues to work his craft, to constantly and consistently work on improving his game, the sky’s the limit. He will one day wear a NBA championship ring, maybe multiple rings…..and I am not one to doubt that this will not happen.

If you still doubt that Derrick Rose is the right pick for Chicago, the Bulls will be playing in the NBA Summer League in Orlando, FL from July 7-11. You can watch a live video webcast of each game on http://www.orlandomagic.com.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Musings On The Chicago Bulls and the NBA

Posted by sportsmaven on April 21, 2008

The NBA playoffs started this weekend and noticeably absent are the Chicago Bulls. While the best teams in the NBA begin the “money” season, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks hire disciplinarian coaches like Scott Skiles. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls are holding their off season team meetings and wondering what to make of the mess of a wrecked season.

In the NBA, like other major professional sports leagues, teams win with a combination of athleticism/talent and desire. With talent and desire, you are the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics. With lack of athleticism/talent, but an abundance of desire, you can be teams like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers and in the past, teams like the Chicago Bulls. Teams with neither talent or desire become the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks.

What exactly happened with the Chicago Bulls this season? The Bulls were a team with little talent but with great desire. They worked, hustled, played defense according to the gospel of John Paxson and Scott Skiles. It brought the Bulls 49 wins last season, a playoff series win against the rapidly aging Miami Heat, and a heated playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Entering this season, the Chicago Bulls had a high draft pick, compliments of the New York Knicks and all their starters returning from last season’s successful run. Many picked the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.

Then, two things happened that led to the downfall of this year’s team. First, Bulls GM John Paxson knew that he needed a superstar talent to lead this team. Every successful team in the NBA, short of the Detroit Pistons, have a superstar player, a team leader, the guy that will take over in crunch time of a game and impose the will to win on his teammates. Paxson missed badly on acquiring C Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and whiffed a couple of times on trades for C Pau Gasol. Paxson had drafted some very nice complementary players from solid, winning college programs after cleaning up the mess left by previous Bulls GM Jerry Krause, but none had proven to be the superstar, athletic talent that teams require to compete in the upper echelon of NBA championship contenders. Paxson correctly determined that he needed to acquire that superstar player, and as timing would have it, during the NBA pre-season, Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was vocally unhappy with his situation and publicly stated he desire to get out of Los Angeles. To his credit, Paxson inquired about the availability of Kobe Bryant and rumors ran rampant over the airwaves. Bryant was sure to be traded, as there has been no love lost between Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, supposedly Jackson had enough with his moody star player. The table was set for a blockbuster deal with prime players identified from the Bulls being some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Ben Wallace. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were also offered what each player considered lowball contract offers going into the preseason, but combined with the trade talks, led to a bad taste in every player’s mouths. In the end, the teams never came to terms on players and the deal fell through as the season began.

The second thing that happened was most likely residual from the events above, for some reason, most every player on the Bulls had stopped responding to the playing and coaching style that brought great success to the Bulls. The Bulls stopped hustling for loose balls, stopped playing hard nosed defense, lacked hustle, with team play virtually non-existent. Both Deng and Gordon admitted that the Kobe Bryant trade rumors plus the perceived lowball contract offers affected their play. Each played as through they had to individually prove they were worth not only bigger contracts, but to justify not being traded for Bryant. Their play dropped off dramatically, along with the other potential players in the trade, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, and Tyrus Thomas and the fate of Coach Scott Skiles and the Chicago Bulls was sealed.

So where does that leave the Bulls now? John Paxson had two of the most difficult tasks to complete in last year’s off-season. He needed to find a superstar, talented player and needed to move Ben Wallace and his albatross contract. Paxson was successful in unloading Wallace to the Cleveland Cavaliers after this season was lost, but has been glaringly unsuccessful in getting that superstar athletic stud talent, and without the high draft picks that can yield that player in the NBA draft. If the Bulls get lucky to land one of the top 2 picks and be in a position to get C Michael Beasley or G Derrick Rose, they can still leverage a combination of Larry Hughes, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Drew Gooden to land a second superstar type player to fuel their rebuilding process. The Bulls need athletic, talented players that have the desire to compete and win every night and need to complement those players with a supporting cast of complimentary players. Right now, they have the complimentary players, but they still lack the superstar.

The Bulls also need a coach that will bring the team spirit back, a coach that can get the players to buy into the team concept once again. Rick Carlisle is available, as is Larry Brown as well as a slew of other ex-NBA coaches that work for ESPN, TNT, or any other network that employs ex-basketball coaches. This offseason is mission critical for GM John Paxson. If he doesn’t get it right, his next moves will be as ex-GM of the Chicago Bulls.

Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Bulls Are Not A Good Team….And Time Is Running Out

Posted by sportsmaven on January 19, 2008

Watching the Chicago Bulls play the Golden State Warriors tonight in a 119-111 home loss, it occurred to me that the Bulls are flat out, not a very good team. And that’s about as polite as I can get about a team that really lacks game-breaking talent or any semblance of leadership, organization, or passion. The Bulls also lack a clear identity and that’s been a long running problem for this team and organization. The Bulls have somehow figured out a way to take two and a half steps back on the path to reclaiming their glory days of the Michael Jordan years.

Bulls Lose To Warriors 119-111

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

It appeared that the Bulls were assembling good, solid, fairly skilled players that are fundamentally sound and would be great complementary pieces to a marquee free agent signing. The Bulls then signed F/C Ben Wallace and paid him a boat load of money, but I’m still not exactly sure WHY they signed him. He was a high profile name, coming from a successful, NBA Champion pedigreed team in the Detroit Pistons, and seemed to be high energy with the heart of a gamer. A closer look at Ben Wallace shows an undersized F/C that was clearly on the downside of his career, a defensive stopper with no offensive game, a free throw shooter on par with Shaquille O’Neal, in short, not the marquee name to slide into the star role the Bulls sorely lack and need.

Future drafts and free agents signings brought in good, talented players from successful college programs. The Bulls were assembling more complementary talent, that I was sure was earmarked for a trade to bring a game-breaker or two. Then the Tyrus Thomas pick….GM John Paxson moved off the playbook and drafted for potential, bypassing C LaMarcus Aldridge for a more athletic, less fundamental, sky high potential of a freak athlete with only two years of college basketball under his belt. Then the whole thing blew up under the weight of high expectations following a 49 win season in 2006-2007.

After tonight’s home loss the Bulls record stands at 14-22, 8 games under .500 and having a very Chicago Bears-like season. The Bulls, owners of a win streak no longer than two games, are a mess. The Joakim Noah farce was the latest in a turbulent season that has seen gross underachievement, the firing of very successful head coach, Scott Skiles, on Christmas Eve, nonetheless, the two day pause in naming Jim Boylan as interim head coach (as if Skiles was fired with no plan for a replacement in mind) and now G JamesOn Curry developing a urination problem that required resisting arrest and an overnight stay in a Boise, ID jail cell.

The record and poor play would have been more than enough to dislodge the faithful. Add in the endless public relations nightmares, repeated over and over again, the lack of any clear direction or vision for this team, and the lack of any action to forge an identity (pointing out lack of pulling triggers on trades for Memphis C Pau Gasol, C Kevin Garnett, SG Kobe Bryant, or any other playmaker that can make a difference). Now there is talk that the Bulls may be interested in Tracy McGrady. Please. The Bulls are turning into the New York Knicks, and doing it so well, that people are forgetting about the real New York Knicks. Only in the NBA Eastern Conference, would a team like the Bulls be sniffing a playoff spot with this kind of karma……Note to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng: you should have signed those contracts.

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