CHICAGO – Luol Deng looked like he needed a warm blanket and a big bowl of chicken soup as he shivered in the Bulls’ locker room before Thursday’s game.
Nearby, ill teammate Nate Robinson sweated in front of his locker.
Taj Gibson wasn’t feeling well, either, but he wasn’t around. Maybe he was in the bathroom.
Here’s the crazy thing: Those guys had it easy.
Seven floors above the United Center, a worker was stuck in an elevator. He had been stuck there for almost an hour, by himself, as technicians tried to find a way to open the doors.
The Bulls were so sick and short-handed during a stomach-churning 95-92 loss against the Brooklyn Nets that their germs somehow spread to machines. Now, the Bulls must regroup in time for Game 7 on Saturday in Brooklyn, where – ah-choo! – the winner will advance to play the Miami Heat and the loser will go home to watch the rest of the playoffs on TV.
Again, the options could be worse.
The poor guy who was stuck in the elevator didn’t have his bosses’ permission to talk to me, so I’ll leave his name out of this. After all, he doesn’t need to get stuck in another jam.
His job for the evening was to be an elevator operator. It’s not the most glamorous task, shuttling people from the main floor to the mezzanine and everywhere in between, particularly after the game when certain riders have had too much to drink.
Before the game, it’s not so bad.
Clearly, Thursday proved to be an exception. Sometime around 6 p.m., the elevator operator was riding solo when the machine abruptly halted between the seventh and eighth floors.
Add the machine to the inactive list along with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich.
The worker is not permitted to carry his phone on the job, but he pressed the call button and waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually, a technician with a walkie-talkie arrived to work on the other side of the doors.
Way down below, Bulls coaches tried to determine the working parts on their roster.
Dressed in a gray suit with a purple tie, Bulls general manager Gar Forman walked briskly across the locker room and toward the trainers’ room. Perhaps he had time to trade a few $10 bills to Walgreens in exchange for Vicks DayQuil, but that might not make a difference.
Meanwhile, Deng, Robinson and Gibson tried to overcome their illnesses for the good of the team. Teammate Kirk Hinrich (calf) already had been ruled out for the game, and center Joakim Noah was playing on a bum right foot, and MVP point guard Derrick Rose already had picked out which designer suit to wear at the end of the bench.
Dr. Thibodeau offered the following description of the bug sweeping the locker room.
“A viral something,” Thibodeau said. “Flu-like symptoms. Whatever.”
An actual doctor would have charged something like $800 for this diagnosis.
Of the sick players, who had it worst? Who had it best?
“Now we’re into degrees of sickness?” Thibodeau said. “They’re sick.”
Clearly, Thibodeau was sick and tired of talking about players who were sick and tired.
“It’s unusual, but you can see it’s all around right now,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone is feeling a little under the weather. You just deal with it.”
The sickness was too much for Deng, but Robinson and Gibson gutted it out. It was an unbelievable effort, especially from Robinson, who scored 18 points and played almost 42 minutes despite throwing up on the bench during a timeout.
My guy the elevator operator battled through adversity for even longer than that.
After the national anthem and before the opening tip, the elevator doors finally inched open. Once enough space existed, the worker stepped down a few feet onto the carpet below.
He shook his head and offered a weary smile as a couple of co-workers welcomed him back. If he was rattled, he sure didn’t show it. That’s pretty remarkable if you ask me. The mere thought of being stuck in an elevator so high above Earth gives me the willies.
But here he was, standing on the seventh floor, ready to go back to work.
And here are the Bulls, heading to a seventh game, ready to do the same.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.