After 42 points in a playoff game. Dagger after dagger after dagger into the hearts of the Celtics. In the Garden (or at least the new Garden)! Against the guy he idolized, whose legacy he tried to reach in college. One of the most beautiful performances we've seen by anyone not named Jordan in a Chicago Bulls uniform.
And yet the performance could not be truly enjoyed because all folks in the Windy City could think about was this: Will he be back in a Bulls uniform next season?
Ben Gordon is playing for a contract. Let's get that straight and on the table up front. He's ballin' for dollars. But if his Game 2 performance doesn't wake up the minds and open up the hedge fund controlled by John Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf, respectively (and respectfully), then we might as well just embrace this first-round revelation for what it is: an anomaly.
Gordon's future has become the argument overtaking the city: Should he stay or should he go? The clash between his being what the Bulls need and what they can do without is reaching "Good Rex/Bad Rex" proportions. On radio shows, in bars and barbershops on the North Side, South Side and West Side, doormen at the W on Lake Shore, at O'Hare, in Boston, the debate has swelled about what the Bulls need to do with BG once the season ends. Which is why we need to pay very, very close attention to everything he does during this series, because this could be the last time we see Ben Gordon doing amazing things for the Bulls.
The Gordon enigma -- from a basketball standpoint -- has been thoroughly documented and understood. He's the classic version of heaven and hell, faults and virtues. He's a non-prima donna version of Alfonso Soriano. He can kill the opponent ... or kill his own team.
Ben Gordon joined the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN Radio 1000, discussing his hot shooting in Game 2, Derrick Rose's Rookie of the Year campaign and what he expects to happen in free agency this summer.
In this debate, there are sides to take. In the city, either you are a "Ben guy" or you are not. Everyone has reasons and rationales. But the only one that matters is what the Bulls are going to do. The entire city can play armchair point guard on this one, and it won't make a difference. With Gordon, the Bulls have Sherwin Williams'd themselves into a corner. Over the last two offseasons, Chicago didn't offer what Gordon felt was close to market value for someone who knew he could be a difference-maker in a playoff series ... or two.
The Bulls offered Gordon deals the last two summers that topped $50 million (just like they did with Luol Deng). When Gordon settled for a one-year contract that is the NBA equivalent of a "franchise tag," his days here appeared numbered like Kraftwerk. But now, the value of someone -- anyone! -- on this team who can do what Ben can do has just become the most important commodity. Will Tyrus Thomas hit those jump shots every game in the fourth quarter the way he did in Game 1? Look at how "unexpected" Joakim Noah seemed when he got an open shot in the lane late in Game 2 -- he didn't even go for an offensive rebound on a shot he knew wasn't going in. Then there was talk (nationally, not locally) of coach Vinny Del Negro being concerned about whether Derrick Rose would make a good decision with the game on the line at the end of Game 2 (because he's a rookie). Add to that Deng's true contribution (aka heart) being publicly questioned and the injured John Salmons not being able to prove how clutch he can be, and the Bulls are faced with making a decision on Gordon with their wrists in handcuffs.
And it's no one's fault but their own. Because with the writing on the wall for the last two seasons, you just knew that at some point it would come to this. The business of basketball can be brutal.
But with all of the pro-and-con scenarios that will surface between now and the end of the season surrounding Ben Gordon, there is one constant that the Bulls really need to consider when brain-wrestling about how much money they do or don't want to spend on him: Derrick Rose.
If Rose is the anointed cornerstone of the franchise, as they say he will be, that makes him Chicago's version of Chris Paul. That means chemistry, comfort and continuity will become paramount in the backcourt. Think about it: If Gordon signs with another team next season, then Rose will have a new running mate to get used to. Then the following summer, when the Bulls hit the 2010 free-agent swap meet, they will likely be in search of another guard to complement Rose -- meaning another guard he would have to "get used" to.
Three different backcourt partners in three years. Wanna stop a point guard from becoming great? Do that to him and watch what happens.
Regardless of how many points he scores or how many game-winning shots he makes, Gordon's presence takes pressure off Rose to score -- allowing the youngster to have the rookie of the year season he enjoyed. Game 1 serves as deeper proof. The Celtics' defensive scheme through three quarters was to let anyone on the Bulls squad beat them except Gordon. The Celtics covered BG like a Snuggie. Those 36 points Rose scored to put him in legendary status? He'd be the the first to tell you most of it was because of Gordon just being on the court.
Rose even stated in a postgame interview that the reason he was able to hit those two free throws that eventually won the game for the Bulls was because he knew BG wouldn't miss 'em.
The Bulls have created a tandem. A tandem of potential greatness. A one-two punch that combined for 108 of the teams 220 total points in the last two games. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.
So, let's enjoy this while we can. Let's argue and debate all we want, because soon after the playoffs are over, one side will be proved right.
It would be nice to say that what we are seeing with the Bulls in this series with the Celtics is a glimpse into the future, what we have to look forward to for years to come.
But unfortunately and realistically, that would be naive. Maybe even stupid. Like I said, sometimes the business of basketball is brutal.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.