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Baffoe: An Oral History Of The Bulls' Summer League Championship

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) It was the summer of 2016. Much of the world was focused on Cleveland, where an important basketball cultural watershed had recently occurred, but now a much more serious cultural experience was going on there. On the other side of the country in the sleepy little town called Las Vegas, the biggest basketball story of the year was actually culminating. While underdog Donald Trump was crystallizing his nomination at the Republican National Convention, the Chicago Bulls were capping an improbable undefeated Summer League season with an overtime, buzzer-beater championship win over a familiar face. This is how it all (probably) went down, as told by those (whom I never spoke to) who were there (and I never was).

VP of basketball operations John Paxson: Missing the 2016 playoffs definitely left the whole organization with a bad taste in its mouth.

GM Gar Forman: Over the last 12 years, I think we've been to more playoffs than any team in the Eastern Conference and in the top two or three in the league. Did you know that? I bet you didn't know that. It's true.

Guard Jerian Grant: I came to this team to win a Summer League title -- even though I was traded for.

Center Cristiano Felicio: It was either this or go home to Brazil. You seen what's going on down there? The poop water? They shot and killed a jaguar at an Olympic ceremony.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf (in a released statement): I own the Bulls.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg: I let assistant coach Pete Myers coach the Summer League team because I've never worked well with young players.

Myers: Fred told me before I got to Vegas not to win the title and not to show him up.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (in a Summer League championship T-shirt over a shirt and tie): Chicago is a great city. And we look to our teams' athletic achievements make us better, to reflect our hardworking spirit and to be forgetful of what's really going on.

Early on, the scrappy Bulls steamrolled the rest of the Vegas participants, not unlike a certain political candidate given little to no credit he first said he could win his party's nomination. The Bulls were 6-0 heading into the championship game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That meant taking on former Bulls coach and new Wolves coach/president Tom Thibodeau for the first time since his departure from Chicago. Meanwhile, the Republican National Convention had kicked off in Cleveland with its own feel-good story. Sometimes the compelling narratives write themselves.

Center Aleksandar Marcius: Hello. I was on the roster but appeared in zero Summer League games. I may be dead or not real.

Guard Spencer Dinwiddie: We were told Aleksandar would be arriving by mail any day now, but he never got here.

Forward Jimmy Butler: I was told a bet was made that the winner of the game got me, but I never got confirmation.

Forman: No, we never tried to bet Jimmy's contract. We took calls, sure. We even agreed to give Minnesota his contract if they won. But we never tried to bet his contract, no.


Melania Trump: Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts.

Forward Bobby Portis: We wanted to win it for Aleksandar. It was tragic how he died in a slot machine accident that Gar told us about.

Forman: We like what Aleksandar can bring to the roster. We've had the best record in the Eastern Conference over the last decade.

Guard/forward Dez Wells: We kept Aleksandar's locker exactly as it always was, empty, and we reserved a chair on the bench with his jersey that we assumed was his: No. 23.

Guard Denzel Valentine: I had a little something extra in warmups. I wanted to win this so bad for Alexsandar, who I was told died of sunburn at the pool. Those practice layups had some emotion in them, let me tell you.

Melania Trump: Practice? We talking about practice.

Myers: The game started sloppy. The guys were nervous, you could tell. 

Paxson: They started the second quarter on a 19-0 run against us. It looked really bad.

Grant: We didn't quit, though. We just kept telling ourselves what (new Bulls guard Rajon) Rondo told us when he showed up a few days ago to watch us.

Rondo: I told them if they look me in the eye, I'll fight them, and they are only allowed to speak to me in Pig Latin or I won't acknowledge them.

Grant: We wanted to earn his respect that night.

Melania Trump: My swag was phenomenal.

The Bulls found themselves down double-digits at halftime. A young team still getting to know one another needed inspiration to dig out of a dire hole. Meanwhile, Melania Trump was giving a stirring speech in Cleveland.

Myers: I had planned on calming and focusing the guys by telling them to stick to our game plan and run the offense, but then Fred showed up in the locker room.

Portis: Fred was, like, hiding behind this life-sized cutout of Michael Jordan and pretending to speak as Jordan to inspire us, I think. It was uncomfortable.

Michael Jordan: Little did they know that during that game I was in Vegas and won ownership of the Bulls in a poker game.

Forman: I had never played poker, but I liked what the game of poker had to offer. We were confident.

Jordan: I called Jerry after won his team and told him I didn't want it, which felt powerful.

Reinsdorf (in a released statement): I still own the Bulls.

Melania Trump: Republicans buy sneakers, too.

Myers: Reinsdorf issued a statement to the team at halftime that let everyone know how well Chris Sale was pitching and that the White Sox were sewing up an easy victory. I think that inspired our guys for the second half.

Grant: Our third quarter was huge. Then the fourth was a dogfight. I wasn't traded here to lose this game, though.

Forman: We've had more above-.500 records than any in the Eastern Conference and the top two, three in the league.

Valentine: It was close as the clock was winding down. I was shooting just 35 percent  from the field in Summer League, but then I realized that I'm the Big Ten Player of the Year and a really safe first-round draft pick -- typical of the conservative style of the Bulls front office. I got this.

Felicio: Gar told me to call Denzel "Big Ten Player of the Year."

Melania Trump: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.

Valentine: I made the shot to send it to overtime.

Emanuel: Chicago is so proud to have Denzel Washington.

Paxson: Fred was doing that audible laugh-crying thing as we went to overtime. People were changing seats to get away from him.

Portis: OT was tough. Everyone running on empty. We had to dig deep.

Forman: We liked that we had secured at least one point for getting to overtime, but we would have preferred two points in the standings with an overtime win. So we thought it was good to try to win the game in overtime. We told Pete to tell the players to win the game.

Myers: I'd had it with Fred and Gar. I told the team this will be my last year coaching Summer League.

Sulaimon: We were all silent, stunned by what Coach Pete told us. Then Brandon Davies threw a chair through the chalkboard, and it stuck. The Timberwolves were as good as dead then.

Melania Trump: The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.

Valentine: I told everyone that I would like to hit another last-second shot if possible, and they said that was fine. Then I got the opportunity to be the star again. The Big Ten Player of the Year.

Felicio: The Big Ten Player of the Year.

Wells: As the shot left Denzel's hand, I knew it was going in. He was going to be the Summer League Big Ten Player of the Year.

Dinwiddie: It was then that we gave Aleksandar's jersey to Coach Pete.

Reinsdorf (in a released statement): The Chicago Bulls announce plans to build Pete Myers a statue and open "Pete's Summer League Restaurant." Chicago Bulls Charities is also establishing a foundation in loving memory of Aleksandar Marcius, dedicated to finding a cure for Did Not Play -- Coach's Decision.

Hoiberg: I should have been the coach of Summer League.

Forman: On top of all the accomplishments this franchise has accomplished since I have been here, we also won the 2016 Summer League championship, which no team can claim.

Grant: When I received Summer League MVP, I knew we had won the Derrick Rose trade.

Rose: They won the Derrick Rose trade.

Emanuel: Derrick Rose is from Englewood. Now Jerry Grant is from Englewood. He's responsible for saving Englewood.

Paxson: I don't want to say that going undefeated and winning a championship is bigger than the 72-win Bulls team, but it's close.

Forman: This is the greatest accomplishment in franchise history.

Oddly enough, as the Bulls were celebrating, Donald Trump was taking the RNC stage to "We Are The Champions," a song performed by a bi-sexual foreigner. Cleveland was no longer the epicenter of basketball success, but it shared with Las Vegas unexpected glory.

Melania Trump: Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.

Butler: I didn't watch.

Dwyane Wade: I was in China preparing for my life after basketball.

Rondo: Aleksandar Marcius looked me in the eye.

Forman: "Fat Bottomed Girls" is probably my favorite Queen song.

Emanuel: This was Chicago's best summer ever. Everything was fine after that. It may have even paved the way for us to get the Olympics here.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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