Nillz & The Chicago Bulls Season Ticket Draft (Part I)

In episode 9 of the Bulls Show, Mitch and I discussed my favorite annual tradition next to Thanksgiving: The Chicago Bulls Season Ticket Draft. Rather than simply go through the motions of the yearly event, I felt compelled to document and share the unique experience with you in the form of a (long-winded, but hopefully entertaining) running diary.

Before we dive into the draft itself, it’d be best to provide some context and history. I’ve been a season ticket holder for 3 years and split them with a buddy of mine named “Wolf”. Before each season, we get together to determine who has the rights to each game under the mediation of our mutual & independent friend, “Commissioner Dar.” At the conclusion of the draft, we essentially go our separate ways and do with our share as we see fit (i.e. use the tickets or sell them).

We first invested in season tickets during the ”Summer of 2010” – Yes, that same summer where LeBron and other high profile free agents were supposed to take their talents to the Windy City. Needless to say, I had been drinking the Kool-Aid – both literally and figuratively – and believed the Bulls were on the verge of another dynasty. I still remember that fateful Friday afternoon, coming home early from an impromptu happy hour and finding myself immersed in an (speculative) ESPN report that “King James” was destined for Chicago. The alcohol penetrating my blood stream only added more soap to the brainwashing. Before I knew it, I was drunk-dialing the Bulls’ ticket office convinced the following year would be the start of a multiple-title run.

Although I could easily blame my inebriated state for the brash purchase, we all know (now) that the investment opportunity ultimately panned out with an MVP and two consecutive best regular season records later…. Not to mention the seats also happen to be right in front of the Rose family suite where we’ve exchanged brief pleasantries with Derrick’s mom and witnessed her box out Nuggets fans for a free t-shirt out of a cannon (WHAT UP, BRENDA?!). I also credit the liquid courage for enabling me to achieve a long-time dream of mine of becoming a Bulls season ticket holder. Subconsciously, that was probably the intent… or just more rationalization in hindsight.

Naturally, the theme of debauchery seamlessly translated into the actual draft setting. In previous years, the backdrop for the event was a neutral site with accessible alcohol (e.g. Commissioner Dar’s residence or a local establishment). This year was no different as we got situated at Scout, a bar in the South Loop.

Prior to the draft, the following guidelines were established via email:

  1. 45 home games will be divided between Wolf and me.
  2. A “coin flip” executed by the Commissioner will decide who will make the first pick in the draft. The winner of the coin flip will have the option to “receive” or “defer” similar to an NFL kick off. If the individual elects to receive, they are granted the first pick. If the individual elects to defer, they are entitled to the second and third picks. In other words, the initial format of the draft will be in snake order for the first 4 picks, then alternate beginning with the 5th pick.
  3. All selections are subject to a review & approval process by Commissioner Dar.

Without further ado, the following time-stamped narrative recaps the 2012/13 Chicago Bulls Season Ticket Draft … to the best of my sober memory:

6:15PM – I’m already running 15 minutes late, but with good & ridiculous reason. I just spent the last hour in the gym working on my fitness and shedding some baby fat. With D.Rose out and the front office’s commitment to cost-cutting, you just never know when the Bulls could use a 5’10” Filipino at the veteran minimum. I’m also able to compensate for my lack of strength, athleticism, consistent shooting, and overall talent with an irrational confidence and a pair of swagged out Jordans

6:27PM – I meet up with Wolf and hop in a cab headed towards the draft location. Obviously, we’re already hyped for the festivities, but there’s an extra buzz in the air seeing that it is Friday. In prior years, we’ve conducted the draft on work nights, which usually led to headaches and a spinning cubicle the next morning. We’ve learned from our past mistakes and intentionally scheduled the draft on a night without any office repercussions.

6:29PM – During the cab ride, Wolf’s excitement is overshadowed by his nerves. He explains that he had been swamped at work during the day and feels unprepared. He even begins disclosing his draft strategy of prioritizing games towards the end of the season in hopes of catching DRose’s return. On the other hand, I keep my guard up and refrain from too much friendly banter.

You see, for over 15 years, Wolf & I have been good friends and great business partners, but often arch-nemeses. By all accounts, he’s one of the nicest guys I know, which makes him a convenient target amongst our friends. He’s been nicknamed “Wolf” after the fictional werewolf creature due to his abrupt and aggressive changes in behavior when a full moon is present – but by “full moon,” I mean 7 to 8 drinks. As a result, I’m certain Wolf’s friends (including myself) all fear that the excessive prodding will one day result in our untimely deaths due to cannibalism.

During our friendship, Wolf & I managed to develop a rivalry which probably originated in his parent’s living room playing NBA Live ’97 on PlayStation. The tension only worsened when his dog (a Bull Mastiff) attacked me one day after school, but Wolf claimed (read: blatantly lied) that his monster of a pet was just playing around. The rivalry was cemented either when he tried to pick a fight with me after HE set an illegal screen on me during high school basketball practice, or when I nearly (unintentionally) stole his girl at a bar (it was too easy). In light of these events, we (I?) practically turn anything into a competition when positioned opposite of each other. The draft follows this protocol, and my opponent already looks weak and flustered.

6:41PM – We arrived at the bar where Commissioner Dar awaits. The look on his face is a balance of excitement and irritability. He’s relieved that the participants have finally arrived, but annoyed it’s taken this long. The frustration quickly subsides at the prospect of friendship. Commissioner Dar is suddenly locked in and ready to get his David Stern on. He adds some unnecessary theatrics to the already over-hyped event by playing “Sirius” on his iPhone. The best part about Commissioner Dar within this context is that he couldn’t care less about the Bulls or the NBA. He’s just volunteered his services as a glutton for beer and bromance.

6:44PM – “Nillzgal” arrives with friends for a happy hour of their own, but she’s not merely resigned to the role of peanut gallery. Last year, during more difficult economic times, she amazingly volunteered to cover half the cost of my tickets. She explained that her funding was justified by her usual attendance to games as my +1. The only stipulation to her ownership share was that she would receive a cut of the revenue and could provide her input during the draft. I initially grimaced at the idea knowing she would prefer the most random games because of some heartfelt interview or behind the scenes special she saw with role player X on team Y, but with the little leverage (and money) I had, Nillzgal effectively became the Gar Forman to my John Paxson… if only Gar Forman’s favorite players were James Johnson and Chris “Birdman” Anderson.

Nillzgal isn’t the biggest basketball fan, which may be the product of either her St. Louis upbringing (where baseball is king) or my incessant/obsessive NBA coverage. Regardless, she has been conditioned well and has slowly developed an affinity for the Bulls. During the closing seconds of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals when the Heat shattered the Bulls title hopes during an epic 4th quarter collapse, Nillzgal was found sobbing in her United Center seat. When I asked why she was so upset, she could only reply through the tears “I didn’t even know these players before the season and now look what you’ve done to me!” I couldn’t have been prouder. It was a thin silver lining to losing that series and a milestone moment in our relationship.

Luckily, that emotion and her random selections wouldn’t be seen during this year’s draft as she quickly lost interest and became preoccupied in socializing with her own party. Prior to departing the table though, she did strongly urge me to pick up the Clippers (Blake Griffin) and Thunder (Kevin Durant). I keep this in mind to prevent any domestic disputes later in the night.

6:53PM – Upon the first of many visits from our waitress, we order our first round and review the previously established rules. During this process, we also elaborate on the following technicalities:

  • Each draft selection must be made within 2 minutes, timed by the Commissioner.
  • A shot of liquor must be taken after every 9 picks.
  • A huge point of contention is the nature and assessment of penalties as a result of expired time or a duplicate selection. You would think that these issues would never come into play, but history & alcohol suggest otherwise. You’d be surprised at the likelihood of accidentally drafting the Milwaukee Bucks game on the wrong Tuesday for the third time after two hours of drinking. Personally, I’ve never committed such a foul in my draft history, but in consideration of his track record, Wolf desperately attempts to institute as many safeguards as possible. We finally agree that when a violation is committed, the turn is simply skipped but recouped on the next immediate turn (i.e. select two games in a row afterwards) – a penalty far less severe than my original recommendation of defaulting to the last pick.
  • To further eliminate any controversies due to slurred speech, each draft selection must be announced using the same format/convention: “Bulls’ Opponent & Date of Game”
  • Similar to last year, the proverbial “coin flip” to determine who has the first pick will be an impartial question asked by the Commissioner and addressed to our randomly-assigned waitress. Last year, the question was “Who do you think is better at basketball: Wolf or Nillz?” To my chagrin, the waitress back then chose Wolf based on looks alone … leading me to believe she was racist against Asians. This year, we continued this unbiased approach by asking the waitress “Who do you like better: Michael Jordan or Derrick Rose?” If she selected Rose, Wolf would be granted the option to receive or defer the first pick.

7:06PM – The waitress answers Jordan and I choose to receive. Before we officially begin the draft, we realize that we’ve been drinking on empty stomachs and our hunger is challenging our concentration. In an effort to remember the rest of the night, we order some nourishment in the form of tacos, burgers, and fries.

7:08PM – With food en route, Wolf and I crack our knuckles and break out our respective “draft boards” to begin the selection process. Historically, I’ve held the edge in draft “technology” and preparation. An excel spreadsheet with my games ranked and a series of contingency plans is par for the course. However, Wolf has surprisingly stepped his game up from previous years by unveiling a highlighted printout of his draft preferences. This unprecedented preparation by Wolf is a significant upgrade from his typical post-it notes of chicken scratch. Perhaps it’s time I take my opponent seriously.


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