Happy birthday, Adam Miller. The former Mr. Basketball out of Morgan Park is 19 today and more than holding his own at Illinois, having started all 15 of a very good team’s games.
But this isn’t about birthdays or Miller or even the Illini, whose average age among their starters is, by the way, 21.
No, this is about ages. More specifically, the Bulls’ ages. The average age among their five leading men — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and Patrick Williams — is basically the same as Illinois’. It’s a negligibly older 21.6.
The cynic in me wants to doubt everything the struggling-for-relevance Bulls are doing. The father of a 20-year-old in me wants to give them a break and exercise patience. LaVine has been around too long for breaks at 25, but Markkanen is 23, Carter is 21, White is 20 and Williams is all of 19. Most of the players near the top of 2021 mock drafts are older than Williams. Maybe he wants to come over for cookies and milk when the pandemic is over?
The birth of these five Bulls — on whose backs the future of the team is being built — essentially takes us back to 1999. They’re younger than the first statewide smoking bans in bars and restaurants in the United States. They’re younger than the John -Elway-led Broncos ending a 14-year NFC Super Bowl winning streak. They’re younger than the entire Monica Lewinsky scandal, including Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
They’re younger than ‘‘Titanic,’’ Mark McGwire’s 62nd and 70th homers and Jesse Ventura’s election as governor of Minnesota. They’re younger than the Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado, and the start of George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign.
They’re about the same age as Tom Brady’s senior season at Michigan in which he threw for a whopping 2,217 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions. Why did he even get drafted again?
They’re sure as hell younger than the Bulls’ last championship, in 1998, but you knew that already.
It’s a funny thing to write about age. It’s supposed to be relative, merely a state of mind. It isn’t supposed to cut it as an excuse — on the young side or the old side — in pro sports and especially not in the NBA, whose best players arrive on the scene preciously early.
But tell that to college powerhouse Baylor, a Final Four-or-bust winning machine whose starting five has an average age of 22.8. Tell it to defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin, which comes in at 22.4. And to Iowa, the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team, whose starters’ average age is 21.8. And to No. 1 Gonzaga, not a particularly old team at all but one without a starter as young as Williams. That includes spectacular freshman Jalen Suggs, who -appears on many draft boards as the No. 1 pick later this year.
Are we to pretend Baylor’s Flo Thamba, 25, and Mark Vital, 24, aren’t more grown up than most of the Bulls’ core? That Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice, 24, and Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, 23, don’t have more life experience? Maybe “life experience” is the wrong way to put it, but they were playing in the street while Carter, White and Williams were in diapers. Any parent understands the size of a maturity gap like that.
The title-holding Lakers? The average age of their starters is 30.4. None of those five is under 27. If you don’t see that as an inherent advantage over the Bulls, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe they’re just plain better at basketball. OK, they are. But we’re pretty much talking men-against-boys here, aren’t we?
The aforementioned Bulls who won title No. 6 in 1998 were practically ancient, with an average starter age on Jan. 23 of 33. They weren’t too old to play well, but they were old enough to make mental midgets of much younger teams. Most of us have been 33 in our lines of work. We’d have played a bunch of 21.6-year-olds like fiddles.
The first Bulls title team had an average starter age of 28. Sure, Bill Cartwright, 33, and John Paxson, 30, had been around the block a bunch of times, but even Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were 25. What would this Bulls core be capable of at that point in its development? We’ll probably never know. That kind of patience doesn’t exist anymore.
LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before Williams could crawl. It’s true. That first for James, then a high school senior, came when Williams was 5 months old. Are we to pretend Williams should be knowing his eyes from his ear holes right now?
I want to doubt these Bulls, I really do. Doubting is my sweet spot, my wheelhouse. For one thing, that’s where all the jokes are — the gallows humor that informs and defines my whole shtick. But I look at these Bulls and see boys. I look at Williams and think milk and cookies.
Yeah, patience. Disclaimer: It might not last.