The following piece has nothing to do with hockey, and everything to do with hockey. It's why you overconfident Pred fans should glance over your shoulder and take a look at the Hawks - LOL.
I penned it numerous years ago, after the death of a close friend. It has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks, largely because I one of the few dimwits that think this Hawk team can still make the playoffs. They are starting to come together as a team, with a burning desire to win. Despite considerable advanced statistical analysis that confirms the Hawks suck, I sense a pulse; an ever increasing heart rate. Nobody is going through the motions right now, they are playing with a heart and passion that makes me anticipate the next game with ever increasing alacrity. (For Blues fans; alacrity = cheerful readiness; eagerness)
At the Islander game last Tuesday, I noticed an excitement and enthusiasm in the crowd that belied the feeling of hopelessness. From the reaction of the crowd, and the buzz in the United Center, you'd never know that this is a team is at the bottom of the league standings. Despite all the positives developing, I'd say 99% of the fans are thinking to next season and the possibility of getting the top draft pick, or perhaps adding a player like Panarin.
The Hawks have 31 games left in the "regular" season. Can they win 25 of those games? Certainly Vegas would give you high odds on that wager....
But I think back to that Bulls team that won 20 of their last 24 games. As my dear old friend, Skip Whalen used to say, "No hill for a climber.") Remember the 69 Mets? (Sorry Cub fans - I don't mean to open up old wounds)
Obviously, I'm delusional...but I really sense something happening as the Hawks try to dig themselves out of the hole they are in. The bandwagon has a lot of room on it right now.
THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED.
Do I have your attention yet? I have been a sports nut all my life and by the grace of God have reached the ripe old age of 53. Obviously, the greatest shot, in the greatest game, covers a lot of territory. Think back with me for a moment.
Was it Bobby Hulls 60th goal? How about the "Bambino" pointing at the flag in center field? How about Jesse Owens 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, with Adolph looking on. (don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.) Maybe Franz Klammer racing down the mountain, seemingly out of control, en route to a gold medal. What about Jackie Robinson stealing home? Willie Mays' over the shoulder catch in center field anyone?
Who could forget the miracle on ice, the ultimate hockey war dance, when a group of college kids upset the world's best hockey team? What about Mary Lou Rettons perfect 10! Or, perhaps the Japanese male gymnast who dismounted from the parallel rings knowing he would have to stick it with a dislocated knee cap. N.C. State upsetting Phi Slamma Jamma anyone? Maybe, "Havilcek stole the ball!" You may even recall a few shots by a fellow with the last name of Jordan.
However, before revealing my pick for the greatest shot, in the greatest game ever I ever witnessed, I’d like to tell you a bit about a friend of mine who was tragically killed in an auto accident. The two events, seemingly unconnected, have a common thread which hopefully will come to light in this article. Both involved men who were not afraid to go down low, one taking the ball, the other taking the Gospel, with them.
I heard in an interview with Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness) recently that he could care less about shaking hands with celebrities. You see, Mr. Gardner spent a little time down in the low post himself. Henry Murphy was the type of person Chris Gardner would want to shake hands with. Henry’s family was much larger than his wife Selma and his two sons Odell and Josh. A bit on the portly side, there was nothing particularly attractive in Henry’s physical appearance.
Initially, there was nothing attractive about the Bulls either in the 1976-77 season. They started out losing 13 games in a row despite acquiring one of the best big men ever to lace them up, Artis Gilmore. I was fresh out of college and having little responsibility, I went to the Stadium to watch quite a few games that year. Tickets that were easy to come by early in the season, would be quite scarce by the end of it.
Led by the Gilmore, the Bulls won 20 of their last 24 games to secure the final playoff spot, with about two games left in the regular season. This team was known for their scrappiness and hard nosed defense. Some of the team members included Scott May, Wilbur Holland, John Mengelt, Norm VanLier, Mickey Johnson and Jack Marin.
May was recovering from knee surgery and proved to us why he was a first round draft pick. Marin felt he was open the instant he stepped across half court. Van Lier led the defensive charge and Mengelt did not get the nick name "Crash" for nothing. The reward for their determined effort was a 3 game mini-series against the Portland Trailblazers, led by Bill Walton.
No one gave the Bulls a chance.
It was by chance that I met Henry Murphy. He was a P.A. for a Quam Nichols, and was not particularly thrilled when I first introduced myself. Despite the obvious lack of enthusiasm in his voice, I managed to set up an appointment with him. It turned out Henry was from a neighboring town. "Great" I thought, "Now we have something in common to talk about." When I also discovered he was very involved in the Harvey Church of Christ, our relationship quickly grew into much more than business associates. On Mondays I’d give Henry a call and asked him what he preached about on Sunday. That was always a big mistake if I was pressed for time. When it came to his faith, he literally could talk the ear off a dead horse.
Speaking of dead horses, the Bulls had lost the first game in Portland by a narrow margin. The refs assisted Portland greatly in their endeavors! When they returned to the venerable "Madhouse on Madison," many fans were wondering if their incredible second half charge was all for naught. Would the Bulls be content to merely have made the playoffs and hang em' up until next year?
To say the fans were hanging from the rafters that Friday night is an understatement. Let’s just say the Fire Marshall was not present. I realize there have been many special moments in the Chicago Stadiums history, but this one was on a 10 foot pedestal. The excitement and anticipation was palpable. No one had a voice the next day. Every time a Lionel Hollins or Dave Twardzik crossed half court with the ball well over 22000 fans began screaming, "D!" Every time. The Bulls were responding to the vaunted sixth man. Clearly though, our hopes though rested on the broad shoulders of the big man in the middle, the quiet giant known as the A-Train.
Hope was something Henry was very familiar with. Henry invited me numerous times to come out and play some hoops with his church on Monday nights. I kept telling him, "Henry I’m 46 years old. I don’t play a lot of full court anymore." Henry, if nothing else, was persistent. He finally goaded me into showing up one Monday by questioning my manhood. "Your afraid, aren't you?" Before he could finish his sentence I said, "What time do you start?"
To say that I didn’t exactly blend in that gym is a bit of an understatement. I remember getting my first two shots blocked in warm ups by a young whippersnapper named Darnell. I quickly realized if Darnell was sticking me, I better be looking to dish the pill!
Before we picked up teams, the leader called all the men, young and old, into a circle where we sang a few hymns. Obviously the leaders in this setting were concerned about much more than who could score the most points. When he told any newcomers to introduce themselves, I realized there was no place to hide. I almost said, "Hi, my name is Rich and I can’t jump!" The one thing I took home with me that night was the character and leadership of the men who ran this program. In a society so consumed with the rich and famous, there were numerous unsung heroes in this gym. Heroes who actually cared about the kids in that gym enough, to actually invest their time with them. Sometimes, winning is not the only thing.
Back at the other gym, the Bulls and Trail Blazers were slugging it out like Ali and Frazier. Jim Durham, the voice of the Bulls, was calling the game. He was one radio announcer who could almost make you see the game over the radio. "Rimming, Yes" "Outlet to Mengelt," "Gilmore hauls down another one," "Ring it up," "Van Lier brings the ball up, working right to left."
My personal favorite was "Wilbur Holland from the Twi-Light Zone!" This game was the epitome of the phrase nip and tuck. The Bulls may have been the eighthseed, but Portland knew they were in for a scrap. This Bulls team was a determined bunch; someone forgot to tell them they had no chance.
Would the Bulls revival prevail?
Henry invited me to a revival his church was having one summer. Once again I decided to step outside my comfort zone. God seems to reward those who step out in faith, and this night proved to be exhilarating. They had a visiting preacher from the Motor City who was on fire. He spoke in a manner that very much resembled Louis Farrakhan, which was a bit unnerving. I was never quite sure whether or not he was going to scream out, "Get Whitey."
His message included topics that included, "Crossing the Rubicon," "Oprah ain’t saved y’all" and "the devils dog whistle." The dog whistle part drew quite a few Amen’s from the ladies at the service. After the service I approached the preacher and found a man with one of the warmest, friendliest voices I’ve ever heard. I remember telling Henry on the way home that night that the Spirit of God was abundantly present in that place. You see, there’s a whole lot of God’s people living down low, where a lot of dirty stuff is going on, on the mean streets.
Speaking of down low, the Bulls game was winding down to the final seconds. Portland had a slim 1 point lead. During the Bulls last timeout, Ed Badger drew up his "Secret" play, even though everyone in the Stadium knew whose hands the ball was going to end up in for the last shot. The ball would be going down low, into the paint, where elbows are sharp, bodies go flying and only the strong survive.
Although the Bulls had a lot of talented snipers, Badger never gave a thought to giving the pill to one of the leprechauns who make their living in 3-point land. The Bulls would be forcing the ball down low, into the A train’s huge hands. When Artis got the ball he appeared to shove Bill Walton, Bobby Gross and Maurice (the thug) Lucas out of the way, as if they were annoying flies, with his right arm. He took a couple few steps, (maybe one to many), and slammed the ball through the hole. An explosion occurred simultaneously in the Stadium that could only be compared to Mt. St. Helens erupting. After the final buzzer, as the players headed to the locker room, Bill Walton ripped his jersey off and threw it into the crowd. He has been quoted as saying it was the greatest game he ever played in. There was not an ounce of energy left in the players or the fans.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah the voice of the Lord was heard saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" When it came to taking the gospel down low, into dangerous areas that most will not go, Henry Murphy responded, "Here am I. Send me!" At his going home service one of Henry’s nephews spoke briefly, with emotion that belied his street toughness. He was known to get in a little trouble.
He told how many times just about when he was going to do something he shouldn’t ought to, His cell phone would ring. "Damn. It’s Uncle Henry." He said he would ignore it, but within seconds Uncle Henry's name would once again be flashing on his phone. You see, Henry cared very deeply for people who lived down low, in the paint, where life was much tougher than on a basketball court.
Hopefully Henry’s nephew will be calling his nephew someday. As the song goes, "The seeds that were sown yesterday, now flower in the land." One of Henry’s favorite messages was entitled, "Can anything good, come from the hood." It was actually a play on words from John 1:46 where Nathaniel asks Phillip, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" As we approach Easter Sunday we of the Christian faith can answer that question, and Henry’s, with a resounding "Yes!"
So Hawk fans, can anything good come from the 2018/19 Blackhawk season? As Phillip told Nathaniel, "Come and see."