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Heated rivalry: Bulls-Miami matchups recall 1990s battles with Detroit

Bulls matchups with Miami recall 1990s battles with Detroit

March 13, 2012|By Bryan Crawford | For RedEye

The pain is still fresh for Bulls fans and players.

When the Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals at the hands of the Miami Heat in May, Chicago's 13-year NBA championship drought was prolonged. The Bulls fielded the best team they've had since the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and it seemed as if that title was well within the Windy City's grasp.

But Miami changed all that.

The script is playing out much the same way this season. The Bulls and Heat again are two of the best teams in the NBA, and if they continue on their expected paths, they will do battle in the playoffs again--and for years to come.

The scenario is setting up the Bulls-Heat rivalry much like the Bulls-Detroit Pistons rivalry of the 1990s—but not as heated, yet.

Bulls TV announcer Stacey King took part in those legendary battles with the "Bad Boys" of Detroit.

"You don't see too many rivalries that marvel that type of rivalry anymore. The league has kind of gotten away from that," said King, who played for the Bulls from 1989 to 1994. "You're talking about two teams that really didn't like each other. We genuinely disliked Detroit, they genuinely disliked us, the cities disliked each other. So it ran a lot deeper than basketball. But with this team and Miami, there's no hatred."

Veteran Bulls reporter and bulls.com writer Sam Smith has seen both rivalries up close and said they are not the same.

"There was a genuine dislike between Chicago and Detroit that doesn't exist in the NBA pretty much anymore because of all the postgame shaking hands and hugging and all that stuff. There was no hugging between those teams," Smith said. "When the Pistons won [an NBA championship] first and the Bulls aimed at them, there was this lingering dislike and rivalry that doesn't really exist toward Miami."

Of course, beating each other up year after year could change all that, and if it does, would that kind of intensity be bad for the NBA? Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, another member of those Bulls teams that faced off with the Pistons, doesn't think so.

"Back when we were battling Detroit, that was the team we had to get over and that rivalry was born out of a number of years," said Paxson, a Bulls guard from 1985 to 1994. "Our rivalry with the Heat is just beginning … but it's good and it's healthy. When we were trying to get past the Pistons, it was healthy for the league, and I think it's good for the league now too.

"The one thing all of us understand is that Miami isn't going anywhere. They've got LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. … We have to prove year in and year out that we can compete, and that's what we're trying to do."

Wade, much like Detroit's Isiah Thomas before him, is a local guy whose team is standing in the way of his hometown's title chances. It's an interesting dynamic, but there seems to be subtle differences there too.

"On some levels it's similar," Smith said. "[Wade] won when he had Shaq, but now he has a new team, and with his new team, he hasn't quite succeeded yet. So I don't think these Bulls look at Wade as being on a pedestal and you have to shoot at him, I think they look at him more like an equal because he achieved when he won a title with Shaq, but he hasn't achieved otherwise."

King considers Wade only a part-time villain to the current Bulls.

"Isiah was born and raised here, but his actions in Detroit really made him a villain," King said. "Dwyane Wade is not that type of player. He's a great player that doesn't badmouth the hometown team, and even though he plays in Miami and the fans don't like him when we play Miami [in Chicago], he can come back home and there's a mutual respect."

Paxson, however, does see the similarity between Wade and Thomas.

"That's a good way to look at it," he said. "I think it makes for an interesting story line because Isiah had our number for a while."

But there's one thing Paxson sees that should get Bulls fans excited.

"Michael was motivated to beat [Isiah Thomas] and the Pistons, and ultimately it worked out for us," Pasxon said. "Derrick [Rose] is still a young player, but he's hungry. So I know that he's going to do everything that he possibly can to put us in a position to win [a championship]."

Bryan Crawford is a RedEye special contributor.

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