I was at the United Center for tonight's game, a 111-107 win over the visiting Denver Nuggets. After seeing 8 games so far this season in person (5-3 record), I can say that this has been the best crowd I've been to. You could tell right away that this crowd was there to welcome their conquering heroes in a game against a (former?) Western Conference power.
The game started out with an uneasy feeling for everyone, with the starting introductions crediting "the man in the middle" as Othella Harrington instead of Eddy Curry (who was a late scratch due to a groin injury). The Bulls had a lackluster and turnover-prone first quarter, with Nugget star Carmelo Anthony supplying most of the offense while he and his teammates were able to have their way inside in Curry's absence. While the Bulls have used their size this season to establish the league's second-best defense, it's easy to forget how big a part Curry is in their scheme. Without him, not only did the Bulls not have no go-to guy early on offense, but the Nuggets took advantage of a frontcourt consisting of Harrington and Antonio Davis.
Halfway through the 2nd quarter Eddy Curry checked into the scorer's table. Immediately the crowd responded to seeing the much-maligned but perhaps now more appreciated Center. A bit of irony was in his anticipated performance as he quickly had to sit after getting 2 fouls. But the overall mood had changed: the Bulls would no longer be taken advantage of inside.
There were various contributors for the rest of the game that gave the Bulls their 4th straight victory and brought their record to 2 games over .500. Ben Gordon provided a late 3, Andres Nocioni did his best to frustrate Carmelo(and instigate a technical foul on new Denver coach Michael Cooper), Tyson Chandler provided his usual 4th quarter ownership of the defensive goal, and Curry reclaimed the paint for the Bulls.
But what I'll remember most is a crowd that was there for basketball. In the years post-dynasty, the famous Bulls marketing team (known for creating much of the pre-game gala that is in all of the NBA today) has done its part to keep fan interest in a subpar team through a variety of gimmicks and contests. While there was still a cheer when the Dunkin Donuts bagel won its race, and laughter when the 'matadors' did their dance during a timeout, the atmosphere was defined in the 4th quarter when the Bulls were able to survive some turnovers and missed free-throws to pull out a victory. In previous years, so often the crowd would be full of empty seats, with more fans looking at characters in the jumbotron than the real-life stars on the court. But tonight was different. The crowd was there for Bulls basketball. And in the meantime, that means winning Bulls basketball.
One unfortunate note was that the Nuggets were the first Bulls opponent in 26 games to score 100+ points. But then again, the Bulls scored 100 points in a victory, so that means free 'Big Macs' for all. Hey, I can't overlook all of the in-game promotions.