CHICAGO -- For some reason, the day felt different.
Not that the fourth day of the year's seventh month was supposed to feel like anything but another birthday for states united, but in this city -- the birth nation's third-largest -- there was a different feel. Like something was about to be born.
Bulls land Ben Wallace
That's how the lead headline of the Chicago Sun-Times read on Independence Day, with a photo of the four-time Defensive Player of the Year on the right. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. On the same day Benny the Bull (the team mascot -- and the moniker given to Wallace on the back of the Sun-Times) was arrested at the annual Taste of Chicago culinary festival, Ben Wallace agreed to a four-year, $60 million offer from the Bulls.
All of a sudden, a shift in the basketball landscape could be felt inside the city. Like a change was gonna come. Like Shaq won't have his best games of the playoffs against us anymore.
Early-morning phone calls replaced the usual alarm clocks of fireworks. The smell of slabs, tips and links on the Weber were delayed by conversations that all began with, "Did you hear what the Bulls did?"
For the first time since -- y'all know the day -- He left, a sense of something beyond first-round playoff exits floated through backyards and alleys, basements and front porches. All of a sudden, a shift in the basketball landscape was all everyone was talking about inside the city.
"We 'bout to do this!!!" could be heard from the West Side to the Wild 100s. Because the man who rebuilt one dynasty was about to resurrect another. From MI to Chi. And by the time the barbecues were over, everyone had circled July 12 on their calendars -- the day Ben Wallace officially returns Chicago to its rightful place in this basketball universe.
Brandon Routh ain't got nothin' on what Ben Wallace is about to return to the city.
The problem? He can't do this alone.
"I've been hearing a lot of stuff. It really doesn't bother me. I'm a Chicago Bull. As of right now, my focus is on getting better and working out this summer. My thing is regardless of what happens, I'm going to be an All-Star next year. I realize that I had a tough year last year. I'm not going to allow that to happen again in my career. If I get traded, I'll be somewhere else with the same plan." -- Tyson Chandler (Chicago Tribune; July 4, 2006)
Flavor Flav's most poignant proverb seems so appropriate right about now the day after: You can't stop reality from being real.
The reality that we in Chicago must wake up to now is that unless the Bulls replace Tyson Chandler with someone who can score in the post, the Ben Wallace deal is just an extraordinary waste of money.
Yes, it would be lovely to have Wallace in white, trimmed in red and black in Tyson's old uniform (No. 3), landlording the lane, but without someone in the four-spot putting the ball in the hole at a 15- to 18-ppg clip, the offer the Bulls just gave Wallace would be equivalent to Warren Buffett giving his billions to the James and Kristin Dolan Foundation instead of Bill and Melinda's.
Putting Wallace and his career 6.6 points per game (4.7 in the playoffs this year) at center alongside Chandler's career 7.1 ppg (and just 1.8 in the playoffs) is not the tandem that's going to make the Heat, Cavs, Pistons (especially since they immediately replaced Wallace with Nazr Mohammed), Wizards, Nets or any other team the Bulls might face in May feel shook. It's not what's going to get the Bulls past that first round.
And when this point came up in conversations at barbecues around the city, the feeling of Christmas began to disappear as if the city were Whoville.
"It's a waste of cap money unless they trade Tyson," Ronald "Snooky" Smith said while flipping ribs on his grill. "It don't make any sense."
"[The Bulls] are putting too much pressure on them three to score if they don't replace Tyson with someone," Charlie Brown Waites said. "[Kirk] Hinrich, [Ben ]Gordon and [Andres] Nocioni can't score 90 a game between them all season long."
His cousin Sammy Morris chipped in, "Yeah, Ben was able to do what he did in Detroit because he had scoring coming from all four positions. With Tyson at the four, that cuts it down to three."
And this is what Christmas feels like in July.
When an All-Star center decides to join a team that many have said is "one player away" from playing in the NBA Finals, reality sets in and reminds an entire city that one player might not be enough. That regardless how great this gift of Ben Wallace is, he's only part of the answer to the riddle: Why did the afro'd man cross I-94?
He crossed it to find promise land on a land that was once promised. He crossed it because of the promise he saw in the team he agreed to sign with and in the promise it made him that it wasn't finished making moves. He crossed it because of the guy he heard the team was going to try to lure to play with him.
He crossed it because the $2.5 million left under the salary cap after he signs is not what's going to bring the Bulls that "other" player. But the $50 million left on Chandler's six-year contract might.
Cue music to "The Sting."
"As part of the deal, the Bulls are believed to have promised to continue their pursuit of Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett, who could be the final piece to the championship puzzle." -- The Daily Southtown
Here's how it's going down: A promise was made. One promise to two people.
To Wallace: Ben, you come over here, we'll get K.G. to ball alongside of you.
To Garnett: K.G., we're going to get Ben Wallace. Let's make this happen.
Cue Yung Joc.
Without losing the core of their team and transferring Chandler's contract -- along with, say, Luol Deng and No. 4 draft pick Tyrus Thomas and an extra million dollars for good faith (and good luck!) -- the Bulls have an almost salary-cap exempt presentation they will submit to the Timberwolves with the pitch of: "You don't want to lose K.G. next year and get nothing in return the way the Pistons just did with Ben Wallace. Do you?"
Next thing we know, the city's prodigal prodigy is back. Playing ball only a few miles away from where he started -- Farragut High School to Minnesota and back. Like Gabe Kotter. Sort of.
That's the plan.
And that's why, in Chi, we feel that the plan will work. That if played correctly, GM John Paxson and principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf can pull off some Bulls--- that would make Penn and Teller proud.
Because in the end, that's all it is. Which is why we fall for it. In the case of reality being real, we know there's no way in Dusty Baker's hell Kevin Garnett is going to play for the Bulls next season. We know the P.J. Brown/J.R. Smith for Chandler deal with the Hornets is as good as it's going to get.
We know the Troy Murphy or Carlos Boozer for Chandler deal is as gooder as it's going to get.
We know the reality is: This -- landing Ben Wallace -- is Christmas.
Which is why from now on in the city Kanye claims is "so Chi that we bashful," the Fourth of July forever will be known as the day Ben Wallace landed on us. The day of independence when the city got the one player it needed to get us back to the top, to the the pinnacle, where the White Sox rest.
It's just too bad the promise won't come true and the "other" player the team promised Ben won't ever be in a Bulls uniform.
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.