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Seattle coach George Karl took the stand in the interview room after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Wednesday night, with a slightly flabbergasted look. He sat momentarily fiddling with the microphone, and then said flatly, "I'll just take questions."

No introduction, no lead-in, just cut to the Q. and A. - which was the way it should have been. There was no graceful way to begin. The Sonics had come into the NBA Finals with hopes of showing up respectably, but by the end of the game they had to be wondering if that will ever happen. They'd stayed with the Bulls for fully three quarters, and then in one short quarter it was all as a lopsided as a mushroom. The Bulls scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter and rolled to a 107-90 win.So when a reporter asked Seattle center Sam Perkins if he thought this had been the Sonics' big chance to win at the United Center, he said: "I don't know. It might seem that way to you, but as a player I think that any game is important. But we had our chances for this particular game."

The problem for Perkins, and the rest of the Sonics is that if there were ever a chance to beat the Bulls in Chicago - or anywhere else - this was it. The Sonics out-rebounded the Bulls by one. They trailed by only two points going into the fourth quarter. Shawn Kemp had an outstanding 32-point, eight-rebound night. They even kept Michael Jordan from having an extraordinary night, if you consider 28 points and seven rebounds ordinary. Which for Jordan it is. Chicago was coming off nine days of idleness. It was a game in which the Bulls were supposed to be rusty and awkward and out of sync. And at times, they were. But all of those factors didn't keep the Sonics from losing by 17."They won that battle of aggressiveness," continued Karl, "big-time."

Making off with a win in Chicago, of course, would have been a feat of colossal proportions. In the Chicago media it would have ranked up there with finding a cure for baldness. Ever since the Sonics won the Western Conference Finals last Sunday, the media in Chicago have been predicting the series would be a flat-out sweep. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a column by NBA writer Lacy J. Banks on Wednesday morning, detailing five ways for the Sonics to lose with dignity: don't whine, don't be so hard on themselves, play their best, don't be bad losers and learn while they're losing.

There were no suggestions as to what they're supposed to do if they win.

This thinking comes as no suprise. If you ask anyone in Chicago whether the Sonics can get even one win, they'll say there's a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa's remains. Most of the debate in Chicago this week isn't whether the Bulls will win, or even if they'll sweep. It's whether they'll be known as the greatest basketball team ever; whether a team with Luc Longley - Luc Longley! - as its starting center is greater than Bill Russell's Celtics, Magic Johnson's Lakers, Larry Bird's Celtics, and yes, even Michael Jordan's Bulls that won three straight titles from 1991-1993.

The talk of immortality built as the Bulls won 72 regular season games but picked up momentum when they marched to the Finals losing only one game on the way.

In the early part of Wednesday's game, Chicago didn't look like even the greatest team in town, let alone in history. The Bulls shot 35 percent for the first quarter. They fell behind by four in the early second quarter. Even in the third quarter - a time when the Bulls usually are getting ready to turn the time over to Randy Brown and James Edwards - Seattle tied the score at 75 with 2:09 to play.

But that was all the suspense there was left. It went from a tense, close affair to a no-brainer in three minutes. Bulls' swingman Toni Kukoc spun inside for a dunk, then nailed two straight 3-pointers, the second one also drawing a foul. Before the Sonics could get their minds made up as to what to do, he had scored 10 points and the Bulls were up by 11.

As the Bulls' pressure defense increased, and Kemp fouled out, and the Sonics were turning the ball over six times in the last quarter alone, it was clear Seattle's chance to steal a win was history. They Sonics would have to try to do it again on Friday.

Thus ended what was very likely Seattle's best chance at beating the Bulls. Now that the Bulls are warmed up, now that they can really get serious, it could get ugly - fast. After starting and shooting poorly, they still won by 17. Which points out a sad fact for the Sonics: their best moments are only going to come if and when the Bulls decide to give them to them.