Bulls-Bucks rivalry? It only exists if there’s an upset

Charles Barkley once said, “If you were to swap the people in Cleveland and Milwaukee, it would be the same dreary-ass city.”

Sheesh, what did Cleveland ever do to him?

Let’s tell it like it is, Bulls fans. Milwaukee? It looks like Chicago coughed up a lung. During severe-weather alerts, residents are encouraged to seek immediate shelter in the nearest pothole. When somebody there says, “I’m in a really bad place right now,” he isn’t referring to his mental state.

If we know one thing about Milwaukee, it’s that there’s essentially nothing anybody needs to know about Milwaukee. The city is so stuck in its ways, Old Milwaukee is still the newest thing about it.

And, man, do the people there ever like to yammer on with dull stories and inane small talk. Or as we outsiders call it, ” ‘Waukee talkie.”

What do you say whenever you’re anyplace but Wisconsin and meet somebody from Milwaukee?

“Hey, I would’ve left, too.”

And Bucks fans, wow. How do you define irony? It’s a bunch of knuckleheads standing around the “Deer District” wearing “Fear the Deer” T-shirts as they talk about getting together again after basketball season and blowing a bunch of unsuspecting deer’s brains out.

A spoiled brat isn’t what a Bucks fan calls a child with a bad attitude. It’s something he covers with extra sauerkraut and eats anyway. Yeah, I know, that joke was the wurst.

Look, I’m trying over here. To do what, exactly? To stoke the flames of a pure, unadulterated, angry basketball rivalry between that city (one I happen to really like, truth be told) and ours.

It probably isn’t working.

There’s a better way for this to become a proper rivalry, of course, and that’s for the Bulls to knock the defending NBA champs out of these playoffs. To steal their hoops superiority and snuff out any big ideas about a Giannis Antetokounmpo-fueled dynasty. If the Bucks make it through to Round 2, nothing changes. But if the Bulls win? The pot gets stirred.

But as the Bulls and Bucks returned to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 of their best-of-seven first-round series, it didn’t sound like Games 1 and 2 had done anything to stir up any sort of nastiness between them. No lingering bad blood after what the Bucks’ Grayson Allen did to the Bulls’ Alex Caruso months back. No sweet stench of danger in the air after Bulls reserve Tristan Thompson bloodied the eye of Bucks super sub Bobby Portis.

Instead, we got something tame from Allen: “I know if there’s some red in the crowd, someone’s in there booing.”

And something lame from Portis: “Having the proper respect for everybody that you play throughout the season and in the playoffs is big.”

Things might be a lot more entertaining if they’d loosen their screws a bit. For sure, it would be a lot better than watching the Bucks calmly demolish the Bulls by 30 points again as they did Friday for a 2-1 series advantage.

Remember how Joakim Noah used to trash Cleveland? Or how Noah and the Bulls just palpably resented LeBron James and the Heat? That sort of welcome biliousness hasn’t entered the building yet in 2022.

Take Antetokounmpo’s comments the other day about Caruso: “Great defender, plays hard, gives everything he has, extremely smart, plays to win, helps his team any way possible, does the little things. That’s what makes him special.”

Isn’t that a flagrant foul for excessive niceness?

The Bulls have been no less gracious and complimentary. These teams should be more at odds with each other, but they aren’t — not yet — and it might be because there’s essentially no postseason hoops history whatsoever between these franchises and cities. The Bucks and Bulls have all too rarely even been average or better at the same time.

How many times did Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat the Bucks en route to a title in the 1990s, for example? Zero. It was as if Vin Baker, Ray Allen, Johnny Newman et al. weren’t even on the map. The Tom Thibodeau-coached Bulls met the Bucks in the playoffs only once, in 2015 — when Antetokounmpo was still just a baby — and dispatched of them in the first round with relative ease.

A Bulls series win over the champs not only would raise the intensity between teams and cities heading into next season, but it might lift the excitement at the United Center to a level it hasn’t seen since Derrick Rose went down with that terrible knee injury in 2012. Bucks guard Jrue Holiday and Bulls center Nikola Vucevic were youngsters on the eighth-seeded 76ers team that instantly benefitted against the East No. 1 Bulls.

“You could feel the energy just taken out of the UC,” Vucevic said.

Since then, Bulls fans have been more guarded, more cynical, and who could blame them? They haven’t had as promising a squad as that 2011-12 crew to rally around. And they definitely haven’t had a natural enemy.

Milwaukee? You couldn’t make the place up if you tried, and you damn sure wouldn’t want to.

Sorry, just trying to do my part.

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