The bad blood between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers goes back a very long time.
The rivalry truly kicked off in the 1987-88 postseason. The Cleveland Cavaliers had put together their best team in franchise history, a group that would be a perennial playoff team for the next decade. Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Larry Nance and Craig Ehlo entered the playoffs optimistic of making a run.
The Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers have bad blood
That run was snuffed out by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The two met again the next season, with the Bulls winning again in a memorable series, with Jordan hitting "The Shot" over Ehlo in the win-or-go-home Game 5. The next decade would see the Bulls win six titles, often by defeating the Cavs; the two teams met five times in the playoffs, with Cleveland going 0-5 in those series.
That's how you inject bad blood into a rivalry. The two Great Lakes fan bases have looked askance at one another for the 30 years since. For much of that time the two teams were quite bad at the same, time, before LeBron James helped elevate the Cavs and later on the Bulls rose to contention behind Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau.
Yet nothing between those two teams has been as nasty, as classless and as hurtful as what the Bulls' fans did on Friday night. The franchise took advantage of former player Steve Kerr coming to town as head coach of the Golden State Warriors (another team Cleveland fans aren't exactly fond of) to honor its 1995-96 championship team.
That included not only the players from that team (although Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen didn't show up) but also the coaches and executives. Most importantly, that included general manager Jerry Krause, who is a divisive figure in Bulls history but was the architect of those six championship teams.
For any other team, a general manager who put together six title teams would be praised to the heavens. He would have a status in the lobby. His name would be in the rafters. His record would be defended against all assailants. Just ask the Warriors about Bob Myers, the Los Angeles Lakers about Jerry West, the Miami Heat about Pat Riley.
It's different for the Bulls and Krause, however. Not only did he often create friction between himself and every other member of the organization, he wasn't well-liked by the stars of that Bulls dynasty. When "The Last Dance" documentary came out a few years ago, Krause was in large part set up as the villain. It was Krause who made the decision to tear down the Bulls' title team and start a rebuild, according to the documentary.
The Chicago fans showed their true colors
Regardless of how those events actually played out, Friday night was supposed to be a night to let bygones be bygones. Many members of that dynasty have had rocky moments then or later, and their relationship to Chicago and to the Bulls has been less than perfect. You put those things behind you when honoring a group such as the most dominant team in NBA history.
The Bulls couldn't be bothered to show that level of maturity or perspective. They also couldn't be bothered to show any kindness, either, as when Bulls fans saw Krause's face appear on the jumbotron they immediately began booing at the top of their lungs.
Booing is something endemic to sports and to fans. Cavaliers fans are certainly no exception; they booed LeBron James after he left to join the Miami Heat. Just this season they booed their own team off the court at the end of a home loss to the lowly Portland Trail Blazers. Whether you think booing has a place in polite society or not, those types of booing fit into a box of fan behavior that is at least tolerated, if not accepted.
What Chicago did to one of their own on Friday was well outside the box of what should be tolerated. Multiple key members of that team stood up and received applause, cheers, shouts of admiration. Then Thelma Krause, the widow of the late Jerry, stood up expecting to receive the same support from the fans of the team her husband helped to six titles, and from the people of the city she called home.
Instead, boos rained down on her from above, waves of bitterness, immaturity and disdain hitting her again and again, eroding her composure and driving her to tears. Fathers stood beside their children and taught them that being a Chicago sports fan meant allowing a grudge about a game cause you to rip a human being to shreds -- not even one wearing a jersey, but the elderly widow who is already living without her husband, a man reviled by his own city.
Chicago has already pretended that they are different from the other major cities. They claim to have more class than East Coast bastions of vile like New York, Boston and Philadelphia, the latter of which once booed Santa Claus. They'll have a hard time finding a leg to stand on now after they joined together in a chorus of loathsome bile.
Let this be a lesson to the Cavaliers and the people of Cleveland. It's fun to get emotionally invested in a game where ten guys in fancy tank tops try to chuck an orange sphere through a ring. We all love the game of basketball. At the end of the day, however, it's just a game, and being kind to other human beings is more important than loyalty to a team. It's absolutely more important than loyalty to a grudge.
Cavaliers fans should rightfully denounce Bulls fans after such a classless act. Then they should look at their own hearts, to take heed lest they should fall. It's possible to be a sports fan and a mature, kind person. Chicago failed the test, and the cost of their failure is the public denouncement of them as a fan base and a city.