Nine Analogies for the Bulls Season

Analogies are good because they help you prepare for the analogy section of the SAT. But they’re also good because they use one thing to explain another thing. Say you don’t understand subtraction: If Jimmy has two apples and you take one away, how many apples does Jimmy have? Or if you don’t understand quantum physics, you can use apples for that too I’m sure.

Since some of you reading this are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Chicago Bulls season and its corresponding and disheartening narratives, I thought I’d do you a solid and explain the end of the Bulls’ 2016–17 season using some analogies. For some situations, like Jimmy Butler’s future with the Bulls, there is more than one analogy.

Each section begins with a number and a title for the section, followed by a sentence-long SAT-type analogy before a longer version of the analogy followed by an explanation so all you lay-people can understand. Word?

(Grammar note: if anyone reading this is driven crazy by the way I structure the sentence-long analogies, I’m sorry. I agonized over this. Disclaimer: I don’t have an editor and I never took the SAT.)

1. Jimmy is packing his bags.

Analogy: The Bulls are to Jimmy Butler as you are to your girlfriend who deserves way better.

You’re a schlub and your girlfriend is way out of your league, though it wasn’t always this way. You were high school sweethearts and perfect for one another. You were her first serious boyfriend. You were on the basketball team and she tutored you in math. She was kinda dorky when you first got together but you saw through that. Some people were dubious at first but everyone eventually saw that you were a great couple — in fact, everyone was jealous of how great a couple you were.

You stuck together through college and moved in together after graduation. That’s when thing’s started going south. You got complacent with yourself and your relationship while she bettered herself and tried to make things fresh between you two. She joined a gym, started working out, and became less and less of a dork but you started slowly letting yourself go. Sometimes she’d come home from work or from the gym and you’d be sitting there watching the Bulls. She’d curl up next to you and ask you how your day was and you’d shrug and mumble something without even looking at her. This is how life was but you figured that you’d get married and have kids eventually.

One day when you did bother to look at her you were struck with how beautiful she was. You knew she was beautiful but you took it for granted and never bothered to take a second to look at her and tell her you appreciate her. Then next time you were in the bathroom you looked at yourself in the mirror and all you saw was your incipient second and potbelly. You wanted to be angry at her but you were just sad, ashamed, and angry with yourself. Around that time she started going out more and more with her new friends from work who you never really got along with. She’d spruce herself up on those nights and you’d feel a hardness in your stomach. You started worrying that she would leave you but you still didn’t do anything because you felt embarrassed and insecure.

Now you’re just wallowing, waiting. You want to feel like she owes you something but you know that she doesn’t owe you anything. You haven’t been good to her and she deserves better. She owes it to herself to be happy and find someone who appreciates her.

She smiles at you like she always did but it seems different now. Or maybe it doesn’t seem different. Maybe it’s all in your head. In fact, sometimes you’ll see that smile and the hardness in your stomach will flutter away.

Just give me one more chance.

Explanation: Jimmy Butler is the best player on the Bulls roster. He’s a three-time all star and a consensus top-ten player in the league. The Bulls drafted him with the 30th pick in the 2011 draft. In other words, 29 teams passed on him before we drafted him. So no one knew he’d evolve into the player he is today. He used to be a defensive specialist with a remarkable origin story, but now he’s a bona fide superstar with famous friends.

In short, the Bulls developed him, believed in him, and gave him the chance to succeed. Things were peachy until this season when he feels justifiably frustrated with the coaching staff and the roster the front office has assembled around him. He’s still under contract for the next two seasons, but I’m afraid that he’s going to ask for a trade.

2. Jimmy is sprucing up his resume.

Analogy: Butler’s recent games are to Butler’s resume as Teach for America is to a recent college-grad’s resume.

Teach for America is an organization that takes recent college-grads and sends them into underfunded schools to teach. There is an abundance of evidence that jobs with organizations like Teach for America aren’t exactly healthy for the graduates who opt to do it (they’re under-trained and over-worked).

Here’s how TFA works: they take these college graduates and train them for five weeks and then throw them into an underfunded classroom of rambunctious children and tell them: “well, better get to teaching and do your best. Their future depends on you, you know!” But a lot of graduates hit their two years, collect their gold watch and then dip for law school or whatever.

There are other compelling criticisms of Teach for America, but I won’t list them here. Instead I’ll take what I’ve seen from people I know who want to do Teach for America and apply it here: none of them actually want to be teachers. So they’re working their asses off for something that will look good on a resume. It will pay off in the end, they tell themselves. Short term pain for long term gain.

In other words, the people I know who want to do Teach for America are ones who want something “prestigious” and “noble” to put on their resume so that they will look like better candidates to graduate schools. I don’t want to take anything away from the aspiring teachers who do Teach for America for altruistic reasons — in fact, I applaud you and I wish there were more people like you. But I’ve met more people than I can count who say something like, “Yeah, I want to do TFA for two years and then go to business school.”

Explanation: Jimmy is doing the basketball version of Teach for America: doing his best to wrangle a shitty situation (the Bulls) into something better and then bounce because this will look impressive to everyone on the outside looking in.

Since Dwyane Wade went down with an injury last month, Jimmy Butler has put the Bulls on his back. He’s been especially remarkable over the last eight games (where the Bulls are 6–2): 28.6 points, 53.8% shooting overall, 58.8%(!) from three on two shots a game, 8.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 9.1 free throw attempts a game, fewer than two turnovers a game, and nearly two steals and a block a game. In short, he’s our alpha and omega. He’ll carry the Bulls to the playoffs on his back, even if it kills him. And I’m sure it’s tough. He’s playing injured because he wants to win.

And probably because he wants to get traded.

So if you view his recent surge through that lens, he’s bolstering his resume. It’s tough, but it’ll look good in the end, he thinks.

3. One more on Jimmy.

Analogy: Jimmy Butler is to the Bulls as a child of divorce is to you, the parent with primary custody.

You’re a divorcee and Jimmy Butler is your only child. Things are kind of rocky between you and Jimmy and you’re afraid that he’s going to demand to go live with his father instead. His father is cool — he only buttons half the buttons on his shirt and drives a convertible and lives in Miami. But Jimmy is still only 16. Since he’s still under your legal control for a few more years you don’t have to comply with his wishes to go and live with his father (if that happens), but it would still be the nice and decent thing to do. If he does want out, you also have to make sure that his father will take him, first of all, and that he will give you fair visitation rights in return. If not, no deal.

Explanation: The first two analogies regarding Jimmy Butler are kind of misleading. (They’re also dour and pessimistic, but that’s beside the point.) In the analogies I’m giving Butler too much autonomy. In reality, any decision made in the Jimmy Butler scenario has to be made by the Bulls. If he wants to leave, he needs to request a trade from the Bulls. He’s under contract for the next two seasons, so he has a legal obligation to play for the Bulls. He can’t just up and leave like a free agent. He can, however, request a trade and the Bulls would be smart to comply, but not without getting the best possible return for him.

4. Naughty or Nice?

Analogy: Rajon Rondo is to the Bulls as a kid trying to get himself on Santa’s “Nice” list after nine months of being “Naughty” is to “Santa” (you, his parent).

Rondo is the kid who is a brat from December 26 through Halloween. He’s surly, prone to throwing fits and not doing his homework. You, the parent, have been called into the principal’s office multiple times this year because Rajon has gotten into fights at recess and is prone to using homophobic slurs. He won’t eat his vegetables and he purposefully antagonizes his younger sister by telling her that spiders will crawl inside her ears when she falls asleep. But once he remembers that Santa supposedly exists and that he makes a list and instead of toys he gives “naughty” kids heaps of carbonized plant matter, he changes his tune. The prospect of getting heaps of black rocks for Christmas appalls and frightens him not because he’s a staunch advocate of sustainable forms of energy, but because he wants some damn toys.

After he makes this realization he starts helping you with the dishes and tells his younger sister that spiders are actually just small puppies and there’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re unsure what to do. Do you reward him, succumbing to recency bias or give him coal in return for nine months of recalcitrance?

Explanation: The Bulls signed Rajon Rondo, known curmudgeon and stat-padder, to a two-year deal this past summer. The second year, though, is a team option, which means that if the Bulls decide they don’t want him anymore they can simply release him back into the wild. He was pretty bad in the beginning of the season but has been the Bulls’ second-best player since mid-February.

To wit:

Pre All Star Break: 6.5 points, 37.2% shooting and 31.8% from 3-point range, 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists

Post All Star Break: 11.2 points, 47.8% shooting and 44% from 3-point range, 4.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists

In short, he wants everyone to forget how bad he was for the first two-thirds of the season, but he stands to make $14 million if the Bulls exercise his option for next season. He certainly won’t get $14 million on the free market, so this is his last chance at some fat loot.

5. Professor Wade

Analogy: Dwyane Wade is to the Bulls as a tenured professor who’s no longer a good teacher is to his university’s administration.

Professor Wade was cool back in the day. He was famous too. In fact, he even won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for some novels he wrote when he was younger. He’s been teaching at his current university as a Professor of English with full tenure but he’s growing increasingly erratic and detrimental to students’ success. He’ll lecture on and on about things that weren’t in the reading and routinely wander into class in a flurry because he forgot that he had a lecture to give. He’ll lose student papers and certain questions on exams will be on books that he didn’t teach that semester.

He’s quirky and it still gives the school some good recognition because he’s considered to be a living legend in his area. His classes fill up quickly until students realize what taking a class from him entails. The administration can’t do anything though, because he has tenure. They’re conflicted too. They like the attention he brings to the school, but not the effect he’s had on students recently.

Explanation: Wade’s situation is the photo-negative of Rondo’s. Both were signed to two-year deals this past summer, but whereas Rondo has a team option on the second year (the team gets to decide whether or not to keep him), Wade has a player option on the second year (he gets to decide if he wants to stay or not). Wade has been thoroughly unremarkable this year, but he’s the highest-paid player on the Bulls. In fact, the Bulls paid him just under $24 million this season and could potentially pay him just over $24 million next season. That is, if Wade wants it. There are a few factors to consider:

Does Wade want to stay here? Hard to say. The team situation isn’t ideal (unless we make the playoffs, which is a distinct possibility at this point), but he’s a hometown boy and this is the most money he’s ever made in his career. He will most likely wait until he knows what Butler’s plans are before he decides.

Does he want to move his family? He just moved his family for the first time in his career this past summer. My guess would be that he doesn’t want to pull his kids out of school again.

Can he make more money elsewhere? Probably not. His playing certainly didn’t warrant a near-max contract this off-season.

Do the Bulls want him? As noted above, this question is more complex than you’d guess. I certainly don’t want him on the team. His contract is an albatross but having a big name like Dwyane Wade on the marquee outside the United Center sells tickets and sells jerseys. This is one of those cases where management and the fanbase’s priorities are misaligned. The front office has to ask themselves whether they prioritize money or a greater chance at team success.

6. Professor Hoiberg

Analogy: Jimmy Butler is to Fred Hoiberg as a disruptive and disrespectful, but popular and super smart student is to an adjunct professor.

Fred Hoiberg is also a professor, but not like Mr. Wade, the once-cool, still-popular, once-good tenured professor. Rather, he’s an adjunct English professor who students treat like a long-term substitute which is unfortunate because he signed a five-year contract. He’s had a few short stories published in a college literary magazine but he’s never written for the New Yorker or had a book published.

He teaches a fiction workshop and he regularly loses control of his class. The primary instigator is a fifth-year senior named Jimmy Butler who’s never respected him. Sure, sometimes Jimmy goes through the motions, letting people answer questions and even answering questions himself, but it’s pretty apparent to everyone on the outside that Professor Hoiberg isn’t in control.

Rather, Jimmy runs the class a lot of the time. He’ll call on people when they raise their hands and he’ll always give the first comments on people’s work when they read.

This is Professor Hoiberg’s second year and Jimmy has been in every one of his workshops. He is waiting for the year to end so that Jimmy will (hopefully) just graduate and get out of his hair so that he can actually do his thing and make the classroom in his image instead of Jimmy’s. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s mother is a professor so he gets free tuition. He’s been here for five years and takes the workshop classes because they’re never the same semester to semester.

What frustrates Professor Hoiberg is that the other students love Jimmy so much and the administration loves his mother too much to do anything about it. But what bothers Professor Hoiberg the most is that Jimmy is one of the best writers he’s ever seen. Most days he’ll come to class with something new he’s written and it’s some of the best writing everyone in the class, Professor Hoiberg included, have ever heard.

Sometimes if he doesn’t get enough feedback or feedback that he feels makes his story better he’ll criticize the class and Professor Hoiberg. Sometimes they get along but there’s always an underlying animosity that permeates every encounter.

Explanation: The head coach of the Bulls is a man named Fred Hoiberg. You probably didn’t know this because he hasn’t given you a reason to know this. He has been thoroughly unremarkable (as of writing this, he has a win-percentage of 50.3%) during his two-year tenure with the Bulls. As ESPN Chicago reporter Nick Friedell likes to say when asked whether or not Hoiberg has “lost” the locker room, he never “had” the locker room in the first place. Bulls management ousted respected defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau in favor of Hoiberg, a decision that has been questioned by both players and fans alike. Jimmy Butler especially hasn’t taken a liking to Hoiberg. During his first season Butler called Hoiberg’s coaching style out in the media, and seems to lack the respect for Hoiberg to even follow his play calls during games.

The funny part is that the Bulls are stuck with him. I will explain this in an analogy about the front office in a little bit, but also because the Bulls front office doesn’t have a history of willingness to pay coaches who aren’t coaching the Bulls. Hoiberg is in the second year of a five-year contract, so there’s no reason to expect that he’ll be going anywhere.

7. Fred Hoiberg, office manager

Analogy: Jimmy Butler is to Fred Hoiberg as an office manager is to a successful and brash salesman.

Let me reference Glengarry Glen Ross again. Specifically, this scene:

Fred Hoiberg is Kevin Spacey in this scene. He’s the office manager, and an emissary of Mitch and Murray (the bigger bosses, aka Bulls management), so technically he’s in charge. Thing is, the place depends on Al Pacino to make money. Spacey (Hoiberg) doesn’t have the respect of the salesmen, Pacino being the most successful. In his mind, Spacey shouldn’t be in charge because he’s not as important to the company’s success as Pacino is. In fact, Spacey is constantly asked whose nephew he is, insinuating the he got the job not on his merits but on his relation to management.

Explanation: Most of the Bulls’ success can be attributed to Butler and the other players (Salesmen), but Hoiberg is still in charge of them. They see him as weak and Butler has called him out in the past. Hoiberg was also allegedly given the job because of his relationship with Bulls’ management as opposed to his coaching ability. More on this in a sec.

8. Step-GM

Analogy: Bulls Management is to the fans as a misguided step-mom is to a frustrated son.

The Bulls Management duo (GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson, effectively known as GarPax) is your step-mom. Actually, she’s just your dad’s long-term girlfriend but you still treat her like she’s your step-mom and she treats you like you’re her step-kid. She used to be cool, but now you guys are growing apart. You suspect she means well, but her promise to give you a great high school education conflicts with her decision to enroll you in a private catholic school because it turns out that this particular private school still uses corporal punishment and teaches creationism.

All your friends at the public school seem smarter than you and are having a better time than you are. You beg her to pull you out but she can’t because she had to convince your father to pull you out of your old school that you liked so much. He also had to spend a lot of money to enroll you in this school that she touted as a sure-thing. She claimed that she searched far and wide for the perfect private school to enroll you in, but in reality she only looked at one, the one she went to.

Said school, let’s call it the Hoiberg School, is antiquated. The facts are right in front of her but she won’t pull you out because it would require a major mea culpa on her part. So instead she lies to your face and when she’s not lying, you suspect that she might just be stupid, insisting that it’ll all work out. And your father is happy enough — she gives him footrubs while he watches the White Sox.


Here’s the hierarchy of command for a basketball team:

Owner: Owns the team, pays the bills and the players, makes the $$$, gives final consent for major roster moves

General Manager: Constructs the team. Drafts players, trades players, decides what to pay the players, hires the coach, oversees development, training, etc.

Coach: Coaches games, runs practices, develops players.

Players: Play the games, soak in the glory or the hatred.

Obviously there are more jobs than these four in an NBA organization, but those four are the most visible and the most important. Some teams, like the Bulls, have a person in between the Owner and the GM, usually a “President of Basketball Operations,” or something. In the Bulls’ case, it’s the “Vice President of Basketball Operations,” John Paxson. The GM is Gar Forman. For all intents and purposes, though, they operate as one entity and people refer to them as such. They’re known as GarPax by fans, and if you go to a Bulls game in the near future, you will no doubt see a variety of GarPax merchandise: shirts, signs, tattoos that all say “Fire GarPax.”

So, like your step-mom, you want your dad (Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf) to break up with (fire) them, or at least set you up to be successful and happy.

People blame GarPax for the Bulls’ woes over the past season or two. There are two examples they cite for why they should be fired.

The first instance is when they fired popular and successful head coach Tom Thibodeau following the 2015 season. Thibs had a winning rate of 65% during his five-year tenure with the Bulls. Thibs was also a defensive mastermind. Under him, the Bulls had the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, and and 11th ranked defenses in his five respective seasons with the Bulls. In his final season with the team the Bulls also came the closest they ever have to toppling arch-rival Lebron James in the playoffs.

The split was ugly and many felt that the front office forced him out because he wouldn’t bend to their wills. After they pulled the plug GarPax began an alleged nationwide search for a new head coach. Unfortunately, even before they fired Thibodeau, there were strong indications from reporters that the list consisted of one name: Fred Hoiberg. Gar Forman and Fred Hoiberg have a history so it seemed a little shady. They also didn’t seem to do their due diligence in their search.

The second instance was Forman’s claim this offseason that the team needed to get “younger and more athletic,” which is a smart goal for any team in today’s NBA. But he said one thing and did another. After making that claim, the Bulls went and signed 30-year-old Rajon Rondo and 34-year-old Dwyane Wade. Neither of these players can shoot threes either (Rondo’s career: 30%; Wade: 28%), which, in today’s NBA, is like having a biology teacher who doesn’t believe in evolution. It was tone-deaf and stone cold stupid.

While they certainly deserve some of the blame for the Bulls’ failures the past few seasons, the fault is diffuse. (I also don’t necessarily like using the word “failure” to describe their seasons.) I think Bulls fans are prone to exaggerating things like this.

The other thing is that they’ve been there for awhile (Paxson since 2003 and Forman since 2009), and, as mentioned above, Bulls ownership is loath to move on from personnel, so long as they’re making the team money. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf prefers his White Sox to the Bulls anyway. (He owns both teams and is famous in Chicago for allegedly saying that he would easily trade the Bulls’ six championships for one White Sox championship.)

So these cries are in vain. Enjoy your Catholic school, Bulls fans. But it’s not as bad as some teams have it.

9. Flopping can be sexy

Analogy: Flopping is to basketball as a girl who’s loud in bed is to you in real life.

Flopping is like a girlfriend that is really loud when she’s getting hot and heavy — throaty breaths, loud moans, borderline screaming. It’s annoying when your roommate’s girl is like that and you can hear her through the walls while you’re trying to get some work done, but when it’s your girl, well, nothing’s hotter. She makes you think you’re God’s gift to women when, in reality, you aren’t.

Explanation: If you watched the game Sunday, or have watched players like Boogie Cousins or Chris Paul play before, there’s this thing in the NBA called flopping, which is like exaggerating contact from a foul, but even more so. Flopping is like what you do when your older brother is annoying you and you suddenly scream out in pain like he kneed you in the nads. Boggie Cousins especially is notorious for this, and the Bulls were the victims on Sunday. You’d think the refs would have caught on by now, but, well, you’d expect that all the refs would have started wearing their prescription glasses by now too.

Here’s a video from last night’s game in New Orleans, featuring Boogie Cousins and Joffrey Lauvergne (number 77) imitating Boogie Cousins:

Hopefully he’s not having a minor seizure here, but I’m pretty sure he’s imitating Boogie flopping. But in this case, the flopping worked. Maybe there’s some evidence on this, but here’s my intuitive breakdown of what happens in flopping:

70% of the time: No call. Here’s a funny example (AGAINST Boogie)

29.99% of the time: It works, like it did against the Bulls last night.

.01% of the time: The player flopping gets a tech or a fine for flopping. Here’s an example of that: (Actually it’s a no call, but he was fined later)

100% of the time: It’s maddening for the fans of the team flopped against.

90% of the time: Fans of the flopper don’t mind because it works sometimes.

Other 10%: It’s maddening for the fans of the flopper too because it’s a gamble and occasionally it takes them out of position.

But they deal with it because, hey, sometimes you get free points.

Thanks for reading, mom and dad.