CHICAGO -- Around here, the object is to barely let the opposition breathe. The idea is to get in the opponents' heads, make them worry to the point of trembling and, most important, make so much noise that they can hardly think. But enough about Chicago politics . . .
The same credo holds at the United Center, which was the capital of pro basketball as the Bulls won six NBA championships in eight years. People who come to the building have been in no hurry to give up that distinction in the 15 years since the latest title.
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"It's the tradition that they have. [Michael] Jordan built that city, built that team with the six championships,'' said Nets reserve C.J. Watson, who was the Bulls' starting point guard at this time last year. "So that's what I think all the fuss is about, playing in Chicago.''
To be sure, Chicago is not the only lively place during the NBA playoffs. Brooklyn put on an impressive display as the Nets and Bulls split the series' first two games. But whether it is the sheer size of the place, the volume of the people and the organ, the passion that has survived Jordan's retirement or the notoriously tight rims that His Airness complained about from day one in 1994, the site of Game 3 Thursday night is just different.
Joakim Noah, the Bulls' center, said as much after his inspiring game at Barclays Center Monday night. Referring to his home court, he said: "It's a whole other ballgame out there. It's not even comparable.''
Don't get him wrong. Noah loves Brooklyn, having lived there and gone to high school at Poly Prep. "These are new fans here,'' he said from a seat in the building on Atlantic Avenue. "But they've been doing this a long time over there in 'Chi.' Chi-town is going to be ready Thursday night.''
Chicago has been ready for big indoor events for more than 90 years. Chicago Stadium, which stood next door from 1922-1994, was built on a larger-than-life scale. It was so huge that it hosted the first NFL playoff game in 1932 when a blizzard forced officials to improvise. The Bears beat the Portsmouth Spartans, 9-0.
The United Center inherited that outsized legacy, and fulfilled it during the Jordan years. Basketball became a habit here.
Might it be just coincidence that the rims seem unforgiving on the court of a team known for its defense? Jordan always was the most outspoken about that, although the tight rims did not seem to limit him. A statue depicts him, in flight, near the main entrance. Inside, opponents feel like they have just gone through a tough ward election.
"I just think it's the history and tradition. It's a great sports town, and I just think that's a big plus for us,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have great fans and great support. We certainly appreciate that. But we have to give them something to cheer about.''