In what ways have the Chicago Bulls become a cultural force beyond basketball galloping around the world?
Author: Yichao (Charles) Zhou
Program of Study: Molecular Engineering PhD
From the basketball team itself, to the face of the league, to the founder and promoter of sports brands, to the worldwide economic and cultural promoter, the Chicago Bulls are a cultural force that sweeps the world like a hurricane. How has this team achieved that?
(transcript was provided by student and is unedited)
Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2021. I’m your host, Yichao Zhou, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering as a PhD student. Today we will be exploring the topic of Chicago Bulls.
I am a basketball fan, when I started to play basketball in the fourth grade of primary school, my father told me that the best team in the world is Chicago Bulls, that is the first time I heard the name. After that, as I started to watch NBA games, I knew more and more about this team, its glorious history and what it meant to the whole history of basketball. If there is one team that represents the sport of basketball, it is undoubtedly the Chicago Bulls of the late 20th century. Why is that? This is not only because of the bulls’ remarkable achievements in basketball: the three-peat dynasties of 1991-1993 and 1996-1998, but also because the Bulls have played a really important role in promoting international cultural exchanges and promoting regional economic development as the pioneers of American basketball culture.
When the Bulls selected Michael Jordan, who would become the greatest player of all time, with the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, the team and the future king went on to grow up. In his second year in the league, Jordan missed a lot of games due to injury, and when he returned, the Pistons’ “Jordan Law” caused him to fall into the mire of teamwork. The bulls had a terrible record until Phil Jackson became head coach and introduced the “triangle strategy” into the Bulls’ offense. From 1991 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 1998, the Bulls won six championships in total, thanks to Jordan’s individual ability and the combination of the triangle strategy, creating one of the most decorated dynasties in NBA and American sports history.
Chicago Bulls began to rise from obscurity in the 1980s; from the three-peat dynasty’s rise to fame, to the team’s rapid demise after Jordan’s retirement, to Jordan’s return, another three-peat brought Chicago’s basketball atmosphere to its peak. The Bulls have been through a lot along the way, too many tears and laughs, too much questioning and self-proof, too much criticism and glory.
Former president Obama noted, “There are great players who don’t have an impact beyond their sports; And there are certain sports figures who become a larger cultural force.” Michael Jordan, the soul of the Bulls, is obviously the latter. The Chicago Bulls led by him has far-reaching influence on film and television media, international sports product market, sports diplomacy and other aspects. Here comes the question: in what ways have the Chicago Bulls become a cultural force beyond basketball galloping around the world?
Film and television are important ways for the Bulls to spread their influence. The recently concluded documentary last Dance follows the bulls’ journey from obscurity to dynasty. “The Last Dance” averaged 5.6 million viewers over 10 episodes, more than any number in ESPN’s history, and demonstrates the power and potential of the Bull culture in film and television. In the last century, Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan, grossed $250 million at the global box office and became the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time, also demonstrating the worldwide influence of Chicago bull culture.
In addition to film and television, the Bulls are an important sports brand of the NBA to the world. The Bulls were at the center of the NBA’s transformation of American basketball culture over the last century. In the second half of the 20th century, David Stern promoted NBA broadcasting to mainland China, Japan, Canada and other places, and Chicago Bulls was the most popular element in its overseas exhibitions. In addition, the Bulls also drive the development of sports brand economy. Founded in Chicago, Air Jordan is an American brand of sports clothing produced by Nike. In 2017, Air Jordan accounted for 15.7% of the U.S. market share, second only to Nike at 35.6%. As one of the most powerful sports brands in the United States, Air Jordan is an important part of the economic and cultural output of American sports brands.
Moreover, in sports diplomacy, too, the Chicago Bulls have had a significant impact. In 2014, Rodman, a key member of the Chicago Bulls, visited North Korea and was warmly Welcomed by South Korean Leader Kim Jong UN, a Bulls fan. They watched a friendly game between retired NBA players and North Korean players and exchanged gifts, and Rodman and Kim struck up a strong friendship from there. It also indirectly promoted the formal diplomatic talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong UN in 2018. There are mixed opinions about Rodman’s behavior, but there is no denying that the Chicago Bulls have a cultural influence that goes beyond sports, ranging from sports diplomacy to political diplomacy.
In all, from the basketball team itself, to the face of the league, to the founder and promoter of sports brands, to the worldwide economic and cultural promoter, the Chicago Bulls are a cultural force that sweeps the world like a hurricane. The Chicago Bulls dynasty may be over, but his widespread influence lives on.
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