One of the constant staples of the Chicago Bulls season is when the clowns show up. I’m not talking about the front office. I’m talking about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that rolls into Chicago every November that has been sending the Bulls out west for an extensive road trip for over 40 years. This year marks the final year in what has often given the Bulls a unique challenge to start the season unlike most teams in the league. This year’s road trip has been better than most with the Bulls cruelly flying across the country to Philadelphia for the final game with 3-2 record and chance to finish with a winning record for only the third time since the Jordan Era.
A brutal travel schedule is usually detrimental to teams and forcing a two-week trip at the start of the season every year has not been kind to Chicago. Most of the circus road trips feature an extensive tour of California while shoving multiple back-to-backs into the two-week span. Other years have had the Bulls travel to both coasts. Over the last 41 seasons (not including the two lock-out years) the Bulls have finished 88-157 on the Circus road trip. You can pin 20 of those losses on Scott Skiles short four-year term. A 35 percent winning percentage which is about 16 percent lower than their overall record over the same period of time. Michael Jordan was responsible for eight out of the ten winning road trips and the only undefeated trip on record.
With the NBA’s current emphasis on rest and less strenuous schedules to improve player health, the Circus road trip is finally seeing its long overdue farewell. The Bulls of the future should see a great benefit to not just the start of their season, but the long-term health of the team without the Circus in town. At least the clowns in the front office made one solid move this year.
Here are some of the more notable or brutal road trips:
1985: Michael Jordan breaks his foot in the first game of the road trip against the Golden State Warriors. Jordan went on to miss 64 games that season. The Bulls somehow made the playoffs and hit 63 points against Boston in the playoffs. Stop comparing Jordan to anyone in the modern game.
1987: A particularly brutal schedule setup, the Bulls ended up playing three back-to-backs traveling from Boston, down to Texas, out to California, back to Utah and Denver then back to Texas for eight games in 12 days. This was probably the worst travel schedule in the history of the NBA. They somehow ended up going 5-3. Notable Line: Jordan: 47pts, 9asts, 4reb, 3blks, 3stls in the win against the Jazz. That's a sad Karl Malone.
1991: The only undefeated Circus road trip with two of those wins coming in overtime. In the double overtime game against Portland, three Bulls’ starters played 51 minutes putting Tom Thibodeau to shame. Scottie, Horace, and Michael made sure the only person you can remember is Clyde the glide in those 51 minutes scoring 85 of the 116 points needed to secure the win.
2002: Another particularly cruel schedule, the post-Jordan HorriBulls went 0-6 on a trip that forced them to play four games in five nights followed by a trip to Boston and returning to Dallas to play against the Nash/Dirk Mavericks. Notable Line: Jalen Rose played all 48 minutes and scored 34 points against the Gilbert Arenas/Troy Murphy/Antawn Jamison Golden State Warriors in the Bulls' closest game of the trip.
2010: The first team to break .500 on the Circus road trip since Michael Jordan ended up being a special one. The Derrick Rose led Bulls ended up with the best record in the league at 62-20. Notable Line: Joakim Noah 10pts, 17rebs, 5asts, 2stls in the win against the eventual NBA Champions Dallas Mavericks.
2014: In the aftermath of the Rose injuries, the Bulls ended up with their second winning Circus road trip since Michael Jordan. This time on the back of huge performances by the improving Jimmy Butler. Notable Line: Jimmy Butler in the win over the Clippers with 22 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals.