For the Bulls and the NBA, the soap opera beats the game every time

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Bulls head coach Jim Boylen walks past forward Jabari Parker during a timeout in a game against the Celtics in December. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

If I asked you what the NBA was all about, you, being the smart people you are, would say “basketball.’’ And in the literal sense, you would be right. The coaches coach, the players play and the balls bounce.

You know, basketball.

But that isn’t what the NBA is really about. It’s about everything but the sport, and it’s genius. I just can’t tell if the genius is by design or not.

“Rumors and stories make the game,” Bobby Portis said. “That makes it interesting for the fans.’’

Portis uttered those words last week, when he was still a Bull. Several days later, he and teammate Jabari Parker were traded to the Wizards. That led to Portis’ ‘‘LOL’’ tweet after the Bulls contended that it would have been foolish to invest big dollars in a backup big man, which is what Portis figured to be.

And it led to Parker, who was more of a bull’s-eye than a Bull in Chicago, declaring that coach Jim Boylen had turned on him.

Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends. It’s a soap opera/Greek tragedy/slap fight dressed up in a basketball uniform. The uniform seems optional.

It’s always something, isn’t it?

Before Parker, it was Jimmy Butler and his diva ways.

Before Butler, it was Derrick Rose and his future business meetings.

We’re nearing the middle of February, when the games mean even less than they normally do. Yet the NBA couldn’t have been more popular the last few weeks. That’s because megastar Anthony Davis, through his agent, demanded that the Pelicans trade him. Or, as I like to put it, what does this have to do with LeBron?

Everything has to do with LeBron James. The league is all about how James will build his next super team. It used to be the Heat and the Cavaliers. Now, it’s the Lakers. Days of intrigue followed Davis’ bombshell demand. He and James share the same agent, only adding to the sense of a trade with L.A. being a fait accompli.

Would the Pelicans take two future first-round draft picks and all the players who couldn’t help the Lakers win the last two seasons in exchange for Davis, one of the three best players in the league? ESPN’s blanket coverage of the story seemed to indicate it should happen for the good of mankind.

The Pelicans seemed more concerned about the good of the Pelicans, the big jerks. Their eventual answer was no, but not before Davis was fined $50,000 because his agent made a public trade demand, a league no-no.

We in Chicago couldn’t help but notice that Davis, one of Chicago’s favorite sons, failed to include the hometown Bulls on his list of preferred destinations. That led to more enthusiastic ripping of Bulls vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, which blessedly took our attention off the product on the court. So, thank you for the respite, Anthony.

Did I say that everything has to do with LeBron James? I meant that everything has to do with Kevin Durant — where he’ll play next season and how unhappy it makes him to be asked where he’ll play next season. Durant is one of the best players in the league, and he’s playing on the best team in the league — and one of the best teams in history — but the real story is where he’ll take his talents after this season. Why that’s more important than watching the Warriors’ excellence is beyond me. All I know is what I’ve been told, over and over again: It just is.

The NBA’s stock in trade is intrigue, backbiting, cap room and next season. Always next season. Nothing is more fascinating than the future.

It’s all that Bulls fans have. In Chicago, we care about the games only as they relate to the team’s chances of getting Duke star Zion Williamson in the lottery. That, not basketball, is our sport right now.


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Why Bulls fans continue to go to the United Center is unclear, but it can’t be the games themselves. Maybe fans are concerned that if they bail now, they won’t be able to get tickets during the Williamson Era. Or maybe they’re waiting for the day when Benny the Bull won’t trip and dump that large bag of popcorn on an unsuspecting fan.

Whatever it is, they keep coming back, through thin and thin.

While they do, they can ponder the ultimate NBA question: What sport is James Harden playing?

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