Steve Kerr looked slightly bemused, which made sense. Five seasons with the Chicago Bulls can do that to you. Tempers flare, stories break, deals are made and still the Bulls go on winning. Since the start of the decade, they have been the premier team in basketball. And, as Kerr reminded reporters Thursday, as far as he knows, nothing has changed.
"Nothing's happened yet," Kerr said, when a reporter asked if the Bulls were being dismantled. "Our focus as a team is just to play it out and see what happens. The minute we start thinking about having our team taken away, we're losing focus on the games at hand. So I try not thinking about it."As the Bulls await tonight's Game 2 in the NBA Finals, Kerr couldn't help smiling, though. The Bulls are back in the Finals again, but for once they aren't favored. "It is kind of strange," Kerr said. "It's kind of refreshing, actually. Even though we're down 1-0 and it's kind of fun to be in the situation where everybody - I shouldn't say everybody - but a lot of people are expecting us to lose. But we feel very confident we can still win the series."
This, of course, is relatively new territory for the Bulls. For decades they were a perennial also-ran. They went 44 years without a championship. But once the '90s arrived, so did the Bulls. Now they're going for their sixth title in eight years.
This year they're in a position they haven't been in since they began their dynasty. They're no longer the Unbeata-Bulls, they're the Vulnera-Bulls. It's not the Increda-Bulls, it's the Impondera-Bulls. How strange is it? Strange enough that many of the media members at the Finals here this week are saying the Jazz will win in six games.
What's next? The fall of the Ford Motor Company? The demise of Microsoft?
As much for America as the Bulls, this has been a weird playoff season. First there was that seven-game problem with Indiana. Now it's the Jazz, who lead the series 1-0. The Bulls enter the Delta Center tonight having lost four of their last five games there. It's like seeing Coke finish second in a taste test or McDonald's losing a burger war. There's something going on that's like watching Bill Murray in a dramatic role.
Some things are just too weird.
Since the running of the Bulls began in 1990-91, they haven't been the underdog in a series - unless you count the two years Jordan was off working on hitting the curveball. The first year they won the title they had the league's second-best record and beat the Lakers - who had the third-best record - 4-1 in the Finals. The next year they had the league's best record, by 10 games, and claimed the title over Portland. After that they only got stronger, winning titles in 1993, 1996 and 1997.
Now they're back again but the circumstances have changed. They're getting out of their rut. The Jazz had the league's best record and the Bulls are looking tired. This year they're coming in trying to beat the odds, not confirm them. They're watching reruns of "Hoosiers" and practicing at being humble.
Do they like the change of scenery? Are they enjoying their relatively incognito status? "Sure, why not?" added Kerr. "Being an underdog - I mean, playing for the Bulls, people say it must be so great. People don't understand the type of pressure we deal with on a daily basis, and for three years now we've been in the spotlight, and if we don't win, it's a disaster. It adds up after awhile. It gets to you a little bit. So to have a series where we might be considered an underdog again is kind of refreshing."
And so on Thursday, the Bulls were adjusting to their new role. They were saying we'll-see-what-happens and giving the Jazz credit. They were learning what it's like to be the No. 2 team in the playoffs, figuring out how to deal with being only the second-best story. Rodman's camouflage hairstyle? Old news. Jordan's swan song? That's been done before. Pippen's feud with management? Tell us something we didn't know. Phil Jackson headed off to Seattle or Denver? Yawn.
Instead, the story of Shandon Anderson's playoff experience last year is making the rounds. So is the story of Bobbye Sloan's battle with breast cancer and the "unheralded Howard Eisley" saga. There are stories on the crowd, the town, the Bear, Frank Layden and Larry Miller. There's Karl Malone and John Stockton, the ageless wonders. There's Chris Morris and a resurrected career.
All the while, the Bulls are breaking new ground. They're finding what's like to actually have something to prove. And as Kerr pointed out, they're even finding that being considered No. 2 can have its own kind of appeal.