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TODAY

Tuesday, July 16

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Airbags

Bulls in Five

Holly, Jolly
by Jason Maslanka

Before there were 200 college bowl games or the NFL played on Christmas Mondays, the NBA held the market on Christmas sporting. In recent history, the NBA on Christmas Day has become one of the most coveted game days for teams as the national television schedule starts up. For years, through the Bulls championships, families who had finished opening presents turned on NBC and heard their absolute favorite John Tesh composition (the NBA on NBC theme music) to watch a double header of NBA championship contenders. These days, the Tesh may be gone, the network may be ABC, and there may be a million other viewing options (including 24 hours of high-definition Yule Log on InHD) but the NBA on Christmas Day still holds a fond place in many memories.

One: The Start, 1991
Their 1990 championship was the Detroit Pistons' second NBA title in a row. The young Bulls had a bitter taste in their mouths after their playoff exit the year before and were hungrier than ever to beat the Pistons. In their Christmas showdown, the Bulls defeated the Pistons 98-86. Jordan had 37 in front of the entire nation and began cementing his image in American's minds as the world's greatest player. The 1991 season was the Bulls' first championship. The Christmas of 1990 win began the Bulls decade-long holiday dominance.

Two: Low Points and High
Entering their first Christmas game as defending NBA champions, the Bulls faced an old rival in 1992. The Boston Celtics were getting older, but they still had all the familiar faces. Bird, McHale and Parish on the Boston Garden floor made the game feel as big as any for the still youthful Bulls. Michael had one of his poorer offensive outings, scoring only 14 points, but the Bulls held Larry "Legend" to single digits and blew out the Celtics 121-99. In 1993, Michael had his biggest Christmas output, scoring 42 in a 10-point win over their newest Eastern Conference rival, Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks.

Threeeeee: Like Mike, Without Mike
The 1993 and '94 Christmas games were Scottie Pippen's chance to showcase his skills to the nation without Jordan. While Michael went off to Birmingham to play baseball, the Bulls faced the NBA's biggest new force, Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic. Pippen didn't disappoint, scoring 28 to lead the Bulls to a two-point win. The entire country, however, was made aware of O'Neal, scoring 20 points with 11 rebounds for the exciting young Magic. In 1994, the game was back to one of America's favorites, Bulls versus Knicks. The Knicks were coming off their Eastern Conference championship season where the knocked the Pippen-led Bulls out of the playoffs (thanks only to Hugh Hollins, the NBA's worst official!). The Bulls won the overtime affair 107-104 and Pippen once again showcased his skills with 36 points.

Four: The Second Round
During the second trio of championships, the Bulls continued their dominance of Christmas Day. In 1996, the Bulls beat up on Grant Hill and the Pistons en route to their fifth championship. In 1997, Michael Jordan played his last Christmas game with the Bulls. Jordan lead all scorers with 24 in the 90-80 win over the Miami Heat. Much of the conversation during that game centered on the possible end of Jordan's career. While many thought they were right, as Jordan retired again after that season, his career was not over. Despite Jordan's draw, however, the Washington Wizards never played on Christmas Day.

Five: Not the Same
While championship-caliber teams continue to play matinees on Christmas Day every year, the event has certainly lost its luster since 1997. It's possible that no other star can truly captivate a nation like Michael Jordan. It's possible that there are just too many other distractions on television and other media these days. It's even possible that the NBA, as a whole, is long past its glory days. None of that matters, however, as Bulls' fans will always have Christmas in the '90s to look back on fondly. When the NBA puts out the "Bulls on Christmas" DVD set, I'll be the first in line to buy it.

Bears & Pucks in Five

...have the week off.

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About the Author(s)

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he executes a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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