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Chicago fans united on Da Bulls

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Bo Gursky is a Chicago Cubs fan from the city's north side, home of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Ed Sienkowski is a Chicago White Sox fan from the city's south side, where the new, glitzy Comiskey Park replaced the old, nostalgic Comiskey Park at the start of this decade.Last weekend at Wrigley, where the Cubs swept the White Sox in their crosstown Major League Baseball series, the two Chicagoans met for the first time. And promptly had their first argument.

"The Cubs are a bunch of losers," Sienkowski snapped at Gursky as a crowd began to form along the third base concourse.

"When did the Sox win one, 90 years ago?" Gursky countered, referring to the World Series drought that has enveloped both clubs.

Tim Fuller paused on his way back from the concession stand to egg on Gursky and Sienkowski. Fuller enjoyed the lively debate as much as the game itself.

"The fan interaction is great. It's the best thing because they just hate each other," Fuller said of Sox and Cubs fans. "There's no real fighting here, though. We just yell at each other."

But Chicagoans' sports loyalties carry over into every day life.

For instance, if Gursky were driving home from the ballpark and saw Sienkowski - clad in his Sox jersey and cap - standing beside his disabled car with the hood up and flames rising from the engine, Gursky wouldn't even consider stopping, he said. Cubs fans don't help White Sox fans. It's against local protocol.

But if Gursky were on his way home from a Chicago Bulls game and saw Sienkowski standing beside his smoking vehicle with a Michael Jordan jersey on, Gursky wouldn't hesitate to lend a hand.

Here in this sprawling Midwestern melting pot of 2.5 million people - 6 million in the greater area - there are seven professional teams playing five sports. Like any large market where competition is present, devotion is fractionalized.

"Who are the Bears? I hate those guys," growled the 51-year-old Sienkowski.

But there is one team - and perhaps more accurately, one man - that brings the entire region together. Nowhere in the Windy City, from Soldier Field to the United Center, from Wrigley to Comiskey or out to the suburban Rosemont Horizon, will you find anyone willing to say a bad word about the Bulls or Jordan.

"I don't root against the Bulls because there's just no point," said J.T. Burke, a 27-year-old banker who isn't particularly into the sport but follows it because of the Bulls' success.

Tracy and Joe Sciabica, too, are big Bulls fans, even though they can't afford many visits to the United Center. On their honeymoon in Mexico two years ago, the Sciabicas took time away from the beach to watch two Bulls playoffs games on television.

"They just keep you interested," Joe said. "They win."

Somebody around here has to. The city's baseball teams certainly haven't. The National League's Cubs haven't been in a World Series since 1945. The American League's White Sox haven't won one since 1908.

The National Football League's Bears won the Super Bowl in '86 but haven't done much since. The National Hockey League's Blackhawks haven't won the Stanley Cup since '61.

The Chicago Wolves are now playing in the International Hockey League's Turner Cup Finals. The Chicago Fire have won five straight games and are in second place in Major League Soccer's Western Division.

But the Wolves, formed in '94, and the first-year Fire haven't been around long enough to create widespread fervor. And it is doubtful that even 10 consecutive IHL or MLS titles would bring this community together the way five NBA world championships in the '90s have bonded southsiders, north-siders, suburbanites - even families - with a common thread of success.

Roy and Lita Reyna's family recently split up over the Cubs and White Sox, at least for one day. All the Sox fans drove to Wrigley in one car. The Cubs fans drove in another.

"The whole family, we're all Bulls fans," Roy said. "But when it comes to baseball, we're all losers. We show up (to Sox and Cubs games) because we need someplace to go."

Chicagoans, like sports fans anywhere, gravitate toward a winner. Michael Jordan has been better at winning, not counting his professional baseball debacle, than perhaps any contemporary American athlete.

"Not many people went to the Bulls games before Michael Jordan," said Ken Griswold, a Chicago psychologist who publishes a regional sports newsletter. "It was Michael Jordan who made the Bulls, and he's been such a role model. (Chicagoans) are very passionate about him.

"When he leaves, I think interest in the Bulls probably will wane. As good as Scottie Pippen is, I think he's the first to say that Jordan makes him better. And M.J. is probably the only person alive that Dennis Rodman listens to."

There is a healthy recognition here that the end of the Bulls' dynasty is near. This could be Jordan's last season in the NBA. And even if it is not, Pippen may not return to the Bulls' roster. Rodman, above all else, is unpredictable.

Chicagoans do support their sports franchises in lean times. Otherwise, the Cubs, Sox and Bears would be long gone. But they don't pack the house for losers. If the Bulls fade, it is logical to assume attendance will dwindle.

But Jordan and his teammates have generated such widespread popularity, it is hard to image the 23,844-seat United Center would ever lack for willing occupants on a regular basis. Many fans, like the Sciabicas, are almost anticipating the Bulls' decline. Only then, they conclude, will the common folk be able, once again, to access and afford entry to Bulls games.

Even if there are no more basketball titles here for, say, another 90 years, Chicago sports fans will have their memories. They always will have their differences, too, but all can agree the Bulls have created more harmony here than the city's many blues bands put together. And nothing can diminish that impact, even if the sweet music of the Bulls' long reign eventually turns sour.