(@TheBullsShow) Despite a premature exit from last year’s playoffs and an offseason marred by rehab and replacements, fans should be nonetheless excited for the official return of Chicago Bulls basketball. After a summer of inactivity (beyond questionable decisions by management), this reformed roster begins their 2012/13 regular season campaign on Halloween at home against the Sacramento Kings. In a matter of a few weeks, we’ll be able to evaluate the actual on-court production and potential of this team, while also learning whether it can survive without Derrick Rose.
Although the best regular season team of the past 2 years has already shown signs of regression during the preseason, there’s always a sense of hope and intrigue every October. At this point, the slate is clean and the Bulls sit atop the standings, still undefeated like every other team. As obsessive fans of unwavering loyalty, we can only cheer and wish for the best until proven otherwise.
To add more fuel to this fire of excitement and cautious optimism, I’ve counted down the top 10 regular season openers in Bulls’ recent history. Of course, by “recent history,” I mean dating back to as far as I care to remember – which was 1991, when a young Nillz sat at my grandmother’s place and witnessed a euphoric Scottie Pippen dribble out the clock during Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles (Apologies to Jerry Sloan, Artis Gilmore, Dave Corzine, and Brad Sellers for omitting any “hardwood classics” before my time). I’ve also taken the liberty to skew these subjective (arbitrary?) rankings by including both season and home openers. I quickly learned in my “research” that if I wanted to reach 10 games and simultaneously maintain some level of credibility, I’d have to include multiple “openers” from the same season rather than grasp straws from the Tim Floyd Era (you’re welcome).
Even without their star and leader in Rose, let’s hope the Bulls open the upcoming season with a performance as memorable and successful as the games recapped here (Highlights and box scores included as links when available).
10. October 29, 2009: vs. San Antonio Spurs (92-85)
GROWTH: Fresh off one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history, the Bulls were immediately tested to begin the following season by one of the league’s elite in the San Antonio Spurs. Fans were eager to see what this upstart roster had learned from their 7 grueling games with the Celtics and whether the success would carry over to the following year. Reigning Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, and the Bulls did not disappoint as they defeated the Spurs for the first time in over two and a half years. The early season upset was executed by the Bulls’ balanced attack, which included 6 players in double figures led by Luol Deng with 17 points. Perhaps the most amusing anecdote from this game was Spurs’ coach Greg Poppovich’s decision to play every player except Keith Bogans – a strategy Coach Thibodeau was never fond of. (Highlights)
9. November 1, 1996: at Boston Celtics (107-98)
BEAN TOWN BEAT DOWN: The Bulls began the defense of their 4th title in Boston by defeating the Celtics. Michael Jordan led the Bulls with 30 points and Toni Kukoc added 20 off the bench. Dennis Rodman also contributed with his first double-double of the season (13 points, 10 rebounds). The victory was secured with a dominating second half performance in which the Bulls outscored the Celtics 59-39.
#THEARRIVAL: Opening night of the 2008/09 season will always be remembered in Bulls history as the debut of Vinny Del Negro… said no one. Of course, I actually mean Derrick Rose, who gave fans a glimpse of his franchise potential in the first regular season game of his career. Rose scored 11 points, but more notably recorded 9 assists, which tied for 2nd most by a top draft pick in an NBA debut. Luol Deng led yet another balanced Bulls attack with 21 points. (Highlights)
7. October 30 , 2010: vs. Pistons (101 – 91)
THIB’S FIRST: Amazingly, Thibodeau’s tenure in Chicago (which witnessed the fastest coach to reach 100 wins) nearly started 0-2 after the Bulls lost the season opener at Oklahoma City and struggled out of the gates in their first home game 3 nights later. Despite a 21 point second half deficit, the Bulls rallied behind Rose’s 39 points – then a career high and a fitting way to begin his MVP season. Former Bull, Ben Gordon nearly exacted revenge on his previous team with 21 points in the first half, but was held scoreless for the remainder of the contest. The game was arguably/definitely James Johnson’s best game as a Bull as his corner three tied the game late in the 4th and his tip-dunk sealed the victory. We also can’t overlook the birth of the White Mamba. Brian Scalabrine made his Bulls home debut by scoring 6 points in an extensive 20 minutes of action (!). (Highlights)
6. November 2, 1996: vs. Philadelphia 76ers (115 – 86)
THE BEST EVER: The greatest team in NBA history was honored for their 72-10 record and championship from the previous season. The Bulls were un-phased by the pre-game ring and banner ceremony as they continued to steamroll the competition and show no signs of rust from the offseason. By the end of the third, the Bulls had a commanding 31 point lead and eventually held the would-be Rookie of the Year Allen Iverson to 4 of 13 shooting. Michael and Scottie led the way with 27 and 22 points, respectively.
5. November 2, 2005: vs. Charlotte Bobcats (109 – 105 OT)
COMEBACK CITY: The 2005/06 season opener is an unconventional favorite that is probably ranked too high on this list, but Bulls legends Michael Sweetney, Darius Songalia, Eric Piatkowski deserve their proper recognition nonetheless. In all seriousness, this trio of misfits (along with Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon) did play an instrumental role in an epic 34-point 4th quarter comeback. Seven Bulls off the bench notched double figures in one of the more “suddenly entertaining” moments in Bulls opening night history. The electricity from the United Center towards the end of the game might have you thinking we had just won the NBA title instead of initiating a perfectly mediocre 41-41 regular season. (Highlights)
4. November 1, 1991: vs. Philadelphia Sixers (110 – 90)
TITLE DEFENSE: Opening night of the 1991/92 season showcased the Bulls’ determination to defend their throne. The team raised its first championship banner in franchise history and followed the pre-game celebration with a 20 point victory. It was a night (presumably) full of misty eyes and vindication, especially for Michael Jordan who had previously endured seven seasons without a title. Of course, I couldn’t find direct footage from this historic game and/or ceremony, so you’ll just have to settle for the 1:36 mark of the clip below or immerse yourself in the nostalgia from the 20th anniversary special. The box score does tell me Jordan and Pippen combined for 49, while sharpshooters Craig Hodges and BJ Armstrong each scored 10 off the bench. (Highlights)
3. October 31, 2006: at Miami Heat (108 – 66)
PARTY FOUL: It’s not too often you feel good about spoiling a party, but that’s exactly what the Bulls did in 2006 against their future rivals, the Miami Heat. Basking in the glory of ring night and their championship from the previous season, Dwayne Wade and the Heat were likely uninterested in playing an actual game. The Bulls took advantage of the distractions and mercilessly ran their opponents off the court in a 42-point rout. Even if this was pre-LeBron Miami, a bit of satisfaction still resonates from this victory many years later. The Bulls’ performance, which featured 26 points from Kirk Hinrich and the debut of Ben Wallace, captivated (deceived?) the fan base into thinking we were legitimate title contenders. (Highlights)
2. November 3, 1995: vs. Charlotte Hornets (105 – 91)
ON A MISSION: To begin his first full season back from retirement, Michael Jordan returned to form in an opening night victory against the Charlotte Hornets. Fans were excited to see how Jordan and the Bulls would respond after failing to advance past the second round of the previous year’s playoffs. With a full offseason under his belt to adjust his body from baseball to basketball, Jordan was on a mission to re-establish himself as the best player in the game. He quickly proved that he was all the way back with a 42 point effort. Extra buzz was in the air with Dennis Rodman wearing a Bulls jersey for the first time in a regular season game. The 1995/96 season opener receives “hindsight points” as it represented the first of 72 and laid the foundation for the greatest NBA season ever. (Highlights)
1. December 25, 2011: at. Los Angeles Lakers (88-87)
THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE: After a 161 day lockout nearly cancelled the Bulls’ “sequel” to their eastern conference finals run the year before, many fans were thankful to see NBA action tip off on Christmas Day. While the start of the season alone probably brought enough happiness to the holidays, the Bulls added another level of excitement by dramatically defeating Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls, attempting to fulfill championship-level expectations, mounted a furious 11 point comeback with only 4 minutes to play. The win was capped off in the final seconds by Derrick Rose’s heroics and Thibodeau’s trademark team defense. With the team’s resiliency on display during the first game of the season, the Bulls offered plenty of optimism and appeared poised for a title run. (Highlights)