The fight was there. The spirit was there. The togetherness was there.

In his post-game press conference when the Bulls were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Wizards, Thibs said, “The fight was there. The spirit was there. The togetherness of the team was there throughout the year.”

And that about sums up the Bulls’ season – one for which they have to be extremely proud, despite the final outcome.

I’m going to come clean with you and ‘fess up – I’ve had a rough go of it, a really rough go, since the Bulls were dispatched for summer hols by the Wizards exactly two weeks ago. As I explained to my brother Kevin “Kevbro” Olsen the other night, I went from 150 percent to below zero. I mean – I was all in for Bulls basketball. I think I even watched practice coverage before the Bulls played those pesky Wizards in Brazil in October (Thibs really liked the gym…), all the way up until the final minutes of the fateful game 5 playoff game vs. those same Wizards.

I monitored standings, menus, attire, injuries, Jo’s hairdos, Thibs’ suits, Benny the Bulls’ antics. But I have gone cold turkey since then. I think it’s taking me longer to get over the end of the season than it’s taking any of the players. I’m sure Jo has already spent the $500,000 he won for being named DPOY on some big bash.

I saw that Dunleavy and Nazr Mohammed were at the Kentucky Derby. DRose and JB are at the Berto Center practicing. Taj is in NYC. And Thibs. Well, just one word – tape. I haven’t seen any of them crying in their Gatorade.

None of us wanted it to turn out this way. Been there. Done that. Another season “lost.” But I, for one, refuse to say it was lost. And reading Phil Jackson’s “Eleven Rings” book this past weekend, at my Dad’s recommendation, has really helped me a bunch.

More on that later, but for now, the Bulls gave us some memorable moments this season.

Thanks, Bulls…for sweeping the pre-season, all eight games. (Is there an award for that?) For DRose putting on his best front, at least publicly, despite wanting to say, “Why me?” or “Why me, again?” As reported by his teammates, D was a leader in the locker room, on the bench, and he worked harder than anybody else with his rehab. For rallying around Luol when he was traded in the middle of the night during our coldest, darkest January. For Joakim’s rise to superstar status, for leading the team, making the All-Star team, being named Defensive Player of the Year, coming in fourth in MVP voting. (And that doesn’t stand for Most Vocal Player). For Jo’s inspiring “This Is Bulls Basketball” speech about a week after Luol was traded. For D.J. saving the season. For Derrick’s game-winning shot at the home opener (I was there) on Halloween versus the Knicks (BTW, what’s their excuse?) For the Christmas Day victory over the Brooklyn Nets, PJ uniforms and all. For defeating the hated Heat at “the playoff game in March,” which was one of the best days of my life (not sure what that says about me…that’s for another blog). For the emergence of Taj Gibson, for his attitude, dunks, moves in the paint, for being from Brooklyn, and for coming in second in 6th man voting. For Mike Dunleavy taking a charge in the March game vs. the Rockets, getting stitches and coming back to score 21. And for Dunleavy’s game-winning shot in Thrillwaukee on December 13. For Jimmer Time. For Joakim being a double double machine, and a triple double machine. For Thibs, with his tape-watching, sideline trolling and for finding a way to smile, and sit down every once in a while.

My bro also suggested there should be an award for what our Bulls accomplished this year. Is it persevering, overcoming or overachieving?

Take away LeBron and Dwayne Wade and what do you have? Not a championship. Maybe not even a playoff appearance.

No KD, no Russell Westbrook? No problem? No, big problem.

The Clippers minus Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. It’s like the Championship Bulls without MJ and Scottie.

Then take this year. The Bulls without DRose and Luol Deng. On paper, the Bulls should have been muscling with the Knicks for the 8th seed. But they’re our Bulls. They find a way. My only regret is that they have to work so hard all season to become the team no one wants to face in the playoffs, only to find themselves with nothing left to give.

Thibs, in his post-game press conference after the Bulls were eliminated: “I’m proud of the team. I thought they gave us everything they had. There was nothing left.”

At first, I was insulted by the “pundits,” who, during the playoff series against the Wizards, were accusing the Bulls of being being less talented. Or, conversely, saying how talented the Wizards were. For two weeks I’ve been annoyed.

But I have had one of those “ah ha” moments when I read something Phil Jackson said in his book, when speaking about the 1995-1996 Bulls, “which some consider the greatest basketball team ever assembled. How could a team that was going nowhere in May transform a few months later into a team that couldn’t be beaten?”

Phil goes on to say “We had absolutely everything in place that we needed to fulfill our destiny-talent, leadership, attitude, and unity of purpose.”

This year, the Bulls had the leadership, attitude and unity of purpose. I’m now willing to concede, they were a bit short on talent. So only 1-2 players away from greatness?

What’s missing is someone who can make shots! This is the game of basketball. We need to score some buckets. And while I will venture to guess it’s not going to be Melo, if GarPax can bring on another shooter to play alongside DRose, and Taj is at power forward and Jo continues playing like an All-Star, and JB works on his game this summer and brings his usual defense to small forward…well, now we’re getting somewhere.

It wasn’t the season I had hoped for, but the Bulls gave fans oh so many reasons to be proud.

So while I count down the six long months before the season starts, I’ll get my Bulls fix by watching NBA hardwood classics. And a ticket has been procured for USA Men’s Basketball at the UC on August 16.

Then, see you in October at the home opener. I’ll be the one with the “I heart Thibs” sign. Because you heard it here – DRose is not going to be traded. And neither is my Thibs.

See Red!

Go Bulls!


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