Will Chicago Bulls Return to 'America's Team' Status in 2013-14?

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Will Chicago Bulls Return to 'America's Team' Status in 2013-14?

Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls want to reclaim much more than their perch atop the NBA's Central Division in 2013-14.

They're also after the hearts and minds of casual fans across the nation.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat have assumed control of the unofficial title of "America's Team" by virtue of their singular dominance over the past few seasons. They're in no hurry to relinquish that title.

But the Bulls have a uniquely appealing combination of factors in their favor that could help them give Miami a run for its money.

The Perfect Hero

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Rose gives the Bulls a protagonist with broad appeal. He fits so many classic narrative tropes that his story almost seems like a parody.

After somehow surviving the exceptionally harsh conditions of his childhood home in Englewood, Chi., Rose managed to avoid becoming a statistic. His rise to megastardom was phenomenally quick, going from being the No. 1 overall pick out of the University of Memphis to the league's MVP in just three years.

During that period, the Bulls earned legions of fans with their hard-nosed play and impressive success. No NBA team won more games during Rose's last two seasons than Chicago did, and casual fans flocked to support its star.

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But in yet another instance of Rose's narrative conforming to some kind of melodramatic script, a torn ACL knocked him out in 2012. The hero had fallen, and as he worked to get back, some fans even jumped off the bandwagon, questioning his decision to sit out an entire season.

Rose had lost basketball, which, to him, was everything.

He worked tirelessly to rebuild himself (cue the Rocky training montage), and now returns as a more evolved, hungrier star with something to prove. While he was gone, a new superpower, viewed by many as the "evil empire" of hoops, seized control of a league that Rose and the Bulls were on the cusp of dominating.

Chicago's appeal isn't just limited to its best player, though. There are plenty of other reasons why the Bulls could rediscover their massive fanbase this season, not the least of which is the team they'll constantly be compared to.

A Worthy Villain

The storybook elements of Chicago's attempt to regain its status as a darling among casual fans go beyond Rose's triumphant return. Because in the Heat, the Bulls have the perfect antagonist.

For one, there's a contrast in styles that creates a familiar narrative. The Bulls are blue collar through and through. They get the job done together, relying on heart, grit and defense. Never mind that head coach Tom Thibodeau's schemes are as much about technical brilliance as they are about sheer effort; all casual fans know is that the Bulls play hard and make the most of their talent.

And really, there are as many similarities between the Bulls and Heat as there are differences. Of course to see them, you'd have to be watching closely and paying attention to advanced metrics.

But casual fans don't care about effective field-goal percentage allowed or defensive rebounding rates. They care about the great stories that arise when plucky underdogs take on more powerful foes.

And the Heat are certainly a powerful foe.

Better still, they have an image that Joakim Noah once described respectfully as "Hollywood as hell." Miami is a band of mercenaries, and a stylish, successful one at that. The roster features three stars and a supporting cast of title-hungry veterans who have signed on to chase a championship.

Chicago's talent is largely homegrown, featuring a projected starting lineup in which four of the starters were originally drafted by the Bulls. The contrast is impossible to ignore.

Generally viewed as the team most likely to give the mighty Heat some trouble this year, the Bulls are more than ready to be the David to Miami's Goliath. Again, we have to acknowledge that Chicago is far too good a team to really fit the role of the underdog. But to casual fans, that's a narrative that resonates.

And those fans have shown before that they're ready to gravitate toward the Bulls when the team has had success. Michael Jordan planted the seeds of national popularity almost 30 years ago, and whenever the Bulls put a first-rate product on the court, those seeds sprout.

The LeBron Factor

As much as the Bulls have going for them in the competition to secure the loyalty of casual fans, the Heat have one thing Chicago can't match: LeBron.

Fans, especially the ones who follow the league from a distance until the playoffs roll around, want to see greatness. They want to watch someone do things better than anyone's ever done them, and that's why James is so immensely popular among casual observers.

It's not just that he's unequivocally the best player in the game right now, it's that he has a chance to become the greatest ever. Since Jordan, nobody has dominated the league like James, and let's not kid ourselves: The Bulls used to be America's team because they had His Airness.

If MJ had been a Portland Trail Blazer, fans would have fallen in love with the team from Rip City. The Bulls themselves had little to do with it.

Maybe Rose can become a similarly transcendent star, but he's not quite there yet. He's an indisputably great player, but anyone who genuinely believes he's better than LBJ is deluded. LeBron is already kicking down the doors of history, playing a better total game than anyone has—maybe ever.

So, if anything stands in the way of the Bulls becoming America's team, it's James.

Either Way, It's Gonna Be Good

Perhaps the combination of Rose's inspiring comeback and the Bulls' relatable makeup will be enough to recapture the mass appeal the franchise once had. It also doesn't hurt that the Heat are as hated as they are loved.

For every ardent Miami supporter, there are probably two detractors.

Still, the Heat are on top for now. And maybe fans will gravitate toward them even more strongly as they try to pull off the always-difficult three-peat.

Whatever happens this year, Chicago and Miami are going to give us all plenty to root for.

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