By Nov. 9, many Americans were searching for answers in a new reality that side-swiped us, launching us into a tempest of confusion and despair. Things we had taken for granted, that we understood as constants in the world, were violently stripped from us. Every prediction we made, each one lined with just a bit more smugness than the previous, was boiled down by what we witnessed into a fitting side for the massive servings of crow we each had to eat. Thousands, if not millions, of Crying MJs were turned away at the crossing point between drafts and actual tweets, never to see the light of day. Instead, it was all of us naysayers, those who doubted the unlikeliest of events, who were facing a tidal wave of memes.
The nation, dare I say the world, was shocked by the end of that night to see what was happening in Chicago. The Bulls were 4-4 after an eight-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 9. It wasn’t so much the .500 record that was confounding America. Rather, it was how they were doing it that had us confounded. The Bulls, who had acquired Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo over the summer, were fielding a cohesive, effective offense. Basketball lovers scoffed at how those two would mesh with Jimmy Butler on the court. The three presented a collection of ball-dominant players who, more or less, had shooting troubles. D-Wade came with a career three point shooting percentage of 28.4%, which roughly translates to ass. Rondo slightly outdid Wade with a 3P% of 28.9%, so ass but with 18 more second spent in the shower. Butler had his own deep-ball struggles, as he possessed a career 3P% of 32.8% coming into this year. Granted, Butler did put up a 37.8% in the 2014-15 season (Rondo had a career-best 36.5% with the Kings last year) and is a continually improving player in his prime, so he still had some hope.
This talk about the Bulls’ new big three isn’t meant to disparage the rest of their very special, very fun games. D-Wade has been a brilliant playmaker for both himself and teammates for what seems like forever now. He’ll always be a wonderful cutter and passer, with a smooth change of direction ability buttressed by some great mid-range shooting ability, all topped off by a great basketball mind and that goddamn pump fake that he’ll be getting people with until the End of Days. As previously stated, Butler is in his prime and is a dominant two-way player, combining a 20-5-5 average last year with great defense. Rondo, for all the ever-present criticisms of assist-hunting floating around, is still a passing savant. He is one of the players in the Ginobili/LeBron/Rubio mold whose understanding of angles, timing and physics enables them to see the game in a different way. Rondo is able to make passes others can’t not just because of his high-level skills and athleticism getting him into good positions but because he sees passes the rest of us don’t conceptualize until the ball is in the basket. Even with those whispers of him overpassing for his own numbers, Rondo’s league-leading 11.7 apg last year were still nothing to scoff at.
So, the issue isn’t that these guys are trash players. It’s that the fit was always going to be weird, since all of their skills are best utilized when they have the ball. When they’re off the ball, they mostly hurt their teammates because their lack of shooting allows defenders to sag off them and clog the lane, which makes getting into the paint for high quality shots harder. All of us laughed at the roster construction and talked about how constipated the offense would be based on everything we knew about these players and the modern NBA. However, haters be damned, these guys were doing it! Through that 4-4 stretch, the Bulls had a 108.9 Offensive Rating, good for fourth in the league. Wade was shooting 42.9% from deep through those first eight games! I don’t fuckin’ know either, dude. Butler was throwing up a 24-7-4 line with a 45.2% clip from three. Rondo was…shooting like absolute dogshit, but hey! Go back up a few sentences and look at that ORtg again! Pretty, right? The Bulls would proceed to go on a four-game win streak and get to 8-4, leaving us snarky assholes to re-evaluate the Bulls.
While the shooting woes being conquered were impressive and shocking on their own, what was even more impressive was the lack of personal conflict, particularly among Wade and Rondo. I had based my entire worldview around the idea that Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fucking hated each other. Years of Eastern Conference rivalry between the Heat and Celtics had steeled the two, leaving a trail of snide comments and ugly plays occurring between them.
It made perfect sense: take two driven, highly competitive players, put them in enough high-leverage situations and eventually bad blood will appear. Throw in Wade’s penchant for making some – ahem – ethically questionable plays and Rondo’s standoffish, prodding persona, and conflict was almost inevitable. Look, I’ve never met Rondo and he doesn’t know who I am, but I have operated under the assumption that he hates me. Imagine being a guy who kept pissing him off in big games and directly contributed to DISLOCATING HIS GODDAMN ELBOW; it makes sense Rondo wouldn’t fuck with him. Look, this person made a three minute video chronicling their beef (CAUTION: SAID ELBOW DISLOCATING HAPPENS FROM LIKE :30 TO 1:30 AND ARE NOT IDEAL IMAGES). Them motherfuckers got into it in a tight Game 7! They were ready to give up points to the opposition in a do-or-die game just to let the other know they were a dickhead. I was certain the chemistry issues would be resolved before the season started via one of the two strangling the other during training camp. But, things were generally sailing smoothly. The team was 4 games above .500, and before the season started Wade was saying nice things like Rondo is the best point guard he ever played with. The offensive success and lack of beef had all of us looking like the Mr. Krabs meme.
The Bulls’ short-term success wasn’t the most shocking thing going on for America at that time, though. I’m sorry to be the one to break the news, but on Nov. 8 we elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America. Trump, a racist shit-for-brains real estate-tycoon and reality TV star, ran on an “America First” campaign centered on economic protectionism and populism at home and hate of the outside world, particularly Muslims and immigrants. The man whose entrance into the political sphere was the racist-ass questioning of Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president via birtherism was revealed to be an aelleged serial sexual abuser via many accusations and recordings of him bragging about sexual assault, and he was still fucking elected. While not all those who voted for him endorsed every one of the disgusting things he proposed and said, they did let it slide in the interest of whatever other part of his platform appealed to them. Many Americans, as much as we probably shouldn’t have been, were shocked to see America’s flaws laid so bare by elevating that man to the most powerful position in the world.
Since assuming the Presidency on Jan. 20, Trump has not pivoted. Turns out the aspirational authoritarian has proceeded to work on all the things he promised to do; shocker, I know. He has signed executive orders to BUILD THAT WALL FUCK YEAH, to cut off U.S. funding from any worldwide charity helping the world’s most vulnerable for so much as mentioning abortions, to ban Muslims from certain countries, leaving people to face horrors our nation has greatly contributed to over the years, very much exacerbated through Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The ban has even affected people already here on green cards and visas, with people reportedly already being stopped from re-entering the country they live in. All the while, he has been bringing in a collection of unqualified and/or malicious lackeys to run his federal departments, with many Democrats offering a very on-brand capitulation to Trump’s nominations. Bleeding-heart pinkos like myself have been thrown for a loop at the degradation of others and the march toward authoritarianism becoming the new normal.
Sensing a divided nation searching for its own soul and any concrete answers in this post-fact world, Wade, Rondo and Butler sprung to action like three cantankerous defenders of sanity. Since that 8-4 start, the Bulls have gone 15-21 to hit a 23-25 mark. Their ORtg has fallen to 103.7 before Friday’s game against the Heat, good for 20th in the NBA. Jimmy Buckets is actually playing well to the tune of a 25-7-5 stat line with some good high-volume shooting, including a 35.4% 3P%. Wade, on the other hand, has fallen back down to earth. He’s shooting 42.8% overall, which would be the worst-shooting season of his career. His 3P% has fallen to 31.9%, which would be a career high for him, but still well below an effective and respectable level in the league. Rondo is particularly struggling, putting up 6.4 points, 6.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game with a ghastly 36.4% overall FG%. You can credit their performances falling back in line with their historical trends on a larger sample size and them regressing to their means, but I like to imagine the Bulls’ Big Three as patriots building a foundation of hope for us, brick by brick.
That theory has only been amplified over the past few days. In the wake of those garbage things the garbage human running our country has been doing, the Big Three have really cranked up the normalcy for us. Following Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks, Butler and Wade decided to lay into their coaching, their teammates and their whole motherfucking crew. “We don’t play hard enough. This is your job. I want to play with guys who care,” Butler said. Wade went even further, saying, “I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job. I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”
That’s some quality shit-talking right there. Solid job to get in your teammates asses, y’all. Of course, the Connect Four Gawd wasn’t just going to let these motherfuckers say whatever slick shit they wanted. Rajon took to Instagram to basically say, “Well y’all are actually are the ones who are Not Good.”
While we should technically hear both sides, I think the most important thing is Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade can’t fucking stand each other again. That little dash of normalcy is just what we need right now. Remember, America: while we fret over the presidency of Donald Trump and the tarring and feathering of the values we want this country to live up to, take solace in the fact that Rondo is probably currently telling his friend about how Dwyane Wade is a “weaselly, two-faced fucking prick with the tendencies of the most annoying person from your high school class.” In this age of absurdity, anger and failure to understand our neighbors both foreign and domestic, let us use the renewed pettiness between two declining, multimillionaire NBA players who have no idea who we are as the rock to hold onto when all else is lost.