I’ve been thinking about the Michael Jordan Era in Chicago a lot lately. It technically started when the Bulls drafted him out of college in 1984, but for many years it didn’t happen because, well, the team just wasn’t any good. But the team slowly got better over time, and the hated Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons finally moved aside and then it was time to rock and roll.
Gary Glitter’s song Rock and Roll Part 2 was undeniably a part of the experience inside the Chicago Stadium during the Jordan Era. Nobody went there to hear that song, of course, but when it would come over the loudspeakers during a timeout, everybody knew the melody, and everybody shouted out “HEY!” when the time came. And the crowd inside the Stadium rocked along with the music and enjoyed being alive.
I was a part of that thriving, singing mass of humanity just one time, in February of 1993. The Chicago Bulls were the two-time defending NBA champions on that date, still a few months away from the epic showdown with the New York Knicks which cleared the way for what was, in my mind, the most satisfying of the six NBA titles they ultimately won.
Bulls tickets, in those days, were impossible to get. The official stated capacity for a basketball game at the Chicago Stadium at the time was 18,676, with the vast majority of those being season tickets in the hands of people who could afford to have them. The Bulls were the best show in town back then, maybe even the best show anywhere.
The man at the center of it all, of course, was Michael Jordan. If I live long enough to have grandkids (which is still a few years away, I hope) I will tell them at every opportunity that I saw Michael Jordan play basketball at the old Chicago Stadium. They will roll their eyes, of course, but I’ll tell the story anyway.
I somehow got my hands on a standing room ticket which cost (appropriately enough) $23. I stood in the highest reaches of the Stadium for hours on end and had an experience that I can’t quite think of a parallel for. Personal experiences like marriage and childbirth, as incredible as they are, happen on an individual level. There are a few people around, but not a lot. And outdoor experiences like concerts and a Cubs victory rally are also great, but having the open sky above tamps down some of the vibe.
Put 18,676 people together in an indoor space, and get them rocking along to Michael Jordan’s basketball artistry and Gary Glitter’s music, and you’ve really got something special. I’ve spent 27 more years on this earth, hoping to find something that electric, and I haven’t yet done it. I don’t know if I ever will, either.
The Madhouse on Madison wasn’t big enough for the Bulls’ party, so it was torn down in 1994 and the United Center was built across the street. It seats upwards of 20,000 for basketball games, and a few thousand more for concerts. I’ve been to both at the UC, and while the extra capacity is good for the bottom line, the intimacy of the old Stadium just isn’t there anymore.
There’s a generation of people who never had the chance to experience what I did at the Chicago Stadium on a February night back in 1993. And the ones who were in their prime years at the time are getting older now, and some have undoubtedly died off. As Journey once sang, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.
In the NBA, Kobe and Shaq and Lebron and all the rest have come on the scene, creating whatever magic and memories they can for their fans and the teams they play for. But anyone who ever packed into the old Chicago Stadium to watch Michael Jordan play in the 1980s and early 1990s knows what a unique experience that was.
The news that the United States has just passed 18,676 deaths due to COVID-19, as of the day I’m typing this out in April of 2020, gave me pause. Many people, unless they’ve been inside a concert hall or professional sports arena or maybe a megachurch, have never been part of a throng of humanity that large. And I’m exempting outdoor arenas from this category because, as I’ve said, the open sky changes the experience.
A throng of 18,676 souls, from all walks of life and from every conceivable group that humanity divides itself into, has been taken away by a virus that we can’t see. And there’s no end in sight either, since more than 2,000 Americans, in all but a small handful of states, left us just yesterday.
Donald Trump, who bears more responsibility for these deaths than anyone else, drew a line in the sand at 100,000 deaths, or maybe even more than that. Any death toll under that amount, in his eyes, is a testament to his great leadership. But, as always, he’s full of shit for saying that.
I’ve been in a crowd of almost 19,000 people before, and I know the enormous personal scale that a crowd that size has. To lose that many people in less than two months time is a severe blow, not only for the families of the afflicted, but to all of us as a society. It’s a national catastrophe, and most certainly not a testament to whatever leadership Trump thinks he is providing.
I mourn for those we have lost, and for all those we still will lose in this moment of great national (and global) peril. And a final death toll of under 100,000 Americans will not entitle Donald Trump to crow about anything, although he most certainly will do that. He goes wherever he wants to go, and dares anyone to stop him. And so far, no one has.
I’m not a religious person in any conventional sense (more of a Thomas Paine-styled freethinker, actually), but I am praying that America gets it right in November of this year. The alternative is simply too much to contemplate.