Hot dogs, Big Macs and NBA basketball

Over Thanksgiving break, I had the chance to attend a Chicago Bulls game against the Miami Heat at the United Center. The Heat went on to win 103-96.

The two teams aren’t the most exciting or talented in the league right now. In fact, they are two of the worst in the NBA. The Bulls offense is horrendous and the Heat don’t have a star offensive player to propel the team forward.

I had the intention of attending the Bulls game and looked forward to my lifelong traditions: visiting the case of the Bulls’ trophies, looking at the old pictures of players from the 60s and 70s and, of course, the Big Mac promotion.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Chicago Bulls had a promotion that if they scored 100 points or more and won, every fan in attendance would win a free McDonald’s Big Mac.

It wasn’t about fast food. It was the fact that the fans could win something of value that got everyone excited. I can remember that if the Bulls had 98 points and were going to win, the player that scored that basket for 100 points was crowned a hero.

But as I looked through the promotional cards to collect my Big Mac card – mind you I collect them and put them on my bedroom door at home – I was shocked to realize it wasn’t there. Instead, the new promotion was that if the visiting team missed two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, every fan wins a Portillo’s hot dog.

And there was no card for me to collect.

I will say that Portillo’s hot dogs are better than McDonald’s Big Macs, but it was the sheer audacity that the Bulls organization had to take away the fans’ beloved Big Mac promotion that stuck with me on the ride back to Peoria.

In today’s NBA the lowest team average of points per game is 103 and the offensive pace of play is high for the first quarter of the season. The Big Mac promotion would have been a lost cause from a business standpoint. Too many Big Macs would have been given away to fans.

Am I disappointed? Of course. I will never be able to collect those cards or chant “Big Macs! Big Macs!” at the end of a game again. That feeling is lost until the NBA decides to get rid of the 3-point line and the game slows down, which will never happen.

What is neat about the new hot dog promotion is that the chances of an opponent going to the free throw line at the end of games are high. One of the quarrels among many basketball fans is that late game situations result in a lot of free throws being attempted. It was a nice adjustment.

In the Bulls-Heat game, the Bulls sent the Heat to the line four times in the last 26 seconds, an absurd amount for that short period of time. The first two chances at winning a hot dog were foiled. The Heat players managed to sink at least one free throw both times to prevent the Chicago fans from rejoicing.

With tension mounting and 16 seconds left in the game, the Bulls fouled Heat forward Justise Winslow and sent him to the line.

THUNK.

He missed the first. The crowd that decided to stay in the arena stood up. The Bulls weren’t close to winning the game. They were down eight. The fans only had the chance to win free hot dogs. The volume level rose. The second free throw went up.

THUNK.

The crowd exploded with joy. Hot dogs for everyone.

The Big Mac promotion was a tradition. It was a part of the Bulls culture. It took on its own culture. As the NBA changes, the old experiences some of us grew up with have to change alongside it. The Big Mac promotion may have lost its novelty if the fans always won it. It wouldn’t be something to cheer for.

Sometimes change is for the better. I like to look at the Bulls’ celebrated six champion trophies from Michael Jordan’s reign, but I wouldn’t mind if we added another trophy and got that seventh championship.

Change may not be fun at first, but if these changes have the potential to grow, we’ll get used to it and eventually call it our own.

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